Health

Wednesday, Jun 11 2014 04:48 PM

Valley fever research eligible for new federal funding

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Terry Oubsuntia, microbiology specialist, labels valley fever test trays in a laboratory at the Kern County Public Health Services Department in this file photo.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to include the fungus that causes valley fever on a list of qualifying pathogens mandated by the Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now, or GAIN, Act.

The law created incentives for the development of antibiotics to treat new and emerging drug-resistant bugs.

The FDA announced the formation of an internal Antibacterial Drug Development Task Force to work on the issue after President Obama signed GAIN into law in 2012.

Valley fever, also called coccidioidomycosis, is an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides, which is common in the soil of the southwestern United States, especially in California's San Joaquin Valley.

Some people infected by the fungus merely suffer flu-like symptoms that pass, but in some patients valley fever is fatal or causes lifelong disability.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, co-chairs the Congressional Valley Fever Task Force, which has been lobbying for more public research on valley fever.

On Wednesday, McCarthy and co-chair U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Scottsdale, Ariz., released a joint statement about the inclusion of the fungus on the list.

"The decision by the Food and Drug Administration to add the underlying fungi species responsible for valley fever to the list of qualifying pathogens is a big win for our constituents suffering from this disease," it read. "FDA's actions will help with developing an effective treatment and vaccine for this disease. The Congressional Valley Fever Task Force has been working with stakeholders to raise awareness for what is a relatively unknown disease nationally but is prevalent in our communities."

The congressional task force has been trying to raise awareness of valley fever and funnel more public money into research for a vaccine and cure.

Currently the only treatment is anti-fungal medication that patients with severe cases have to take for the rest of their life.

Valley fever in years past has not garnered much attention because it's mainly confined to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah.

The qualifying pathogen list is the latest evidence that the fight against valley fever is gaining traction.

A 2013 Valley Fever Symposium in Bakersfield brought together community health leaders, valley fever experts and officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

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