Local News

Friday, Apr 03 2009 07:29 PM

Q & A: The latest on valley fever research

BY STACEY SHEPARD, Californian staff writer sshepard@bakersfield.com

Leading valley fever researchers from around the country gathered Friday at Cal State Bakersfield to kick off two days of talks on current research and new developments in treating and preventing the disease.

The event featured a look back at progress made by the Valley Fever Vaccine Project, a group formed in 1995 to research, engineer and test a vaccine. After nearly 15 years of research, several viable vaccine candidates have emerged but stumbled due to manufacturing problems.

Renowned valley fever expert Dr. Hans Einstein of Bakersfield, who has been researching valley fever since 1949, took some time to answer a few questions:

Question: What's the good news on research for a valley fever vaccine?

Answer: The good news is that the vaccine program is alive and well. It has made significant contributions to the knowledge of the disease. It has established the feasibility of the idea of a vaccine. It has good people working on it. And that is good news.

Q: What's the bad news?

A: The bad news is lack of funding and the lack of (pharmaceutical) industry interest. In the lab, we can make the prototype vaccine but we can't manufacture the large amounts required for testing and marketing. That requires industry backing. This vaccine, no matter how good, will never be a giant-seller. It will never be a money-maker so it's pretty simple why industry isn't interested.

It's only a small population that needs it and will require it so it will always be an orphan drug from a commercial point of view. Hence, whoever does (develop the vaccine) will get the glory but they ain't gonna get rich. And in this capitalistic society, well, etcetera, etcetera.

Q: What are the biggest hurdles to developing a vaccine for valley fever?

A: "The greatest difficulty, ultimately, will be getting it manufactured and getting it through the regulatory jungle to be approved. Vaccines are far more difficult to get approved than medicines ... because of the large number of people refusing to be vaccinated. There's a lot of new age philosophy against vaccines.

Vaccines, in general, have become an issue. You've read about autism being caused by childhood vaccination. It's a bunch of nonsense but there's a widely held and growing negative perception about vaccines. And when people pay attention, the politicians have to pay attention. As a result, insurance requirements are much heavier and that ultimately raises the purchase price when it becomes available.

Q: In lieu of a vaccine and a cure for valley fever, is there anything people can do to protect themselves from getting valley fever? Should they avoid going outside when its windy?

A: There's not really anything that's effective. A mask would be effective but it would have to be not just a cloth face mask, it would have to be a miner's type of mask. The spores are so small they get through everything except a commercial miner's mask.

I'd say, if you want total protection, move to Oshkosh. It's a nice little town in Wisconsin. They have floods and tornadoes but they don't have Valley Fever.

Q: Efforts to develop a valley fever vaccine have been going on for decades now and researchers today said it could still be years away. How long do you think it will take until we have a vaccine?

A: My personal guess is 10 years.

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