Local News

Saturday, Aug 09 2014 06:43 PM

Hundreds walk for valley fever research

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Jlynn Bowen and her two dogs Mei Mei and Diamond participate in Saturday's third annual Walk for Valley Fever at the Kern County Museum.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The third annual Walk for Valley Fever gets off to a good start Saturday, at the Kern County Museum.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    These two youngsters lead the way during the annual Walk for Valley Fever, Saturday in Bakersfield to help find a cure and to fund research for valley fever.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    David Larwood with Valley Fever Solutions from the University of Arizona was introduced as a main speaker during the third annual Walk for Valley Fever by master of ceremonies Jeff Lemucchi, right, at the Kern County Museum.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    It was a fairly easy pace for participants in Saturday's annual Walk for Valley Fever at the KC Museum.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Rep. Kevin McCarthy, second from left walks with many during Saturday's annual Walk for Valley Fever. David Larwood, center, with Valley Fever Solutions, and his father, Dr. Tom Larwood, (in wheelchair) a pioneer in valley fever research, were among those at the morning event at the Kern County Museum.

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  7. 7 of 8

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    David Larwood shakes hands with Baby Cal, a Bakersfield Condors mascot, prior to the annual Valley Fever Walk Saturday.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, left, talks with David Larwood, center, at the starting line of the annual Valley Fever Walk.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

Shane Hoover attended the third annual Walk for Valley Fever because he doesn't want others to suffer with the disease like he has.

Aera Energy employee Christina Ramos walked at Saturday's event because she regularly participates in local nonprofit fundraisers with encouragement and support from her employer.

And three sisters were there because their father, the late Dr. Hans Einstein, was a pioneer in early valley fever research -- and they continue to support his vision.

"We are all in this together," Paula Einstein, one of Einstein's daughters, said of Bakersfield and its surrounding communities.

"The March of Dimes succeeded because of dimes," she said. "That's what we need here, a March of Dollars."

Saturday's event, held at the Kern County Museum's Pioneer Village, drew an estimated 200 walkers, many in teams. All proceeds were slated to go to the Valley Fever Americas Foundation to support research toward a vaccine, as well as a renewed focus on development of Nikkomycin Z, or NikZ for short, an antifungal treatment drug that has shown great promise in animal trials, but has not yet been tested in human trials.

"We're just on the edge of making large-scale commercial amounts of this stuff," said David Larwood, CEO of Valley Fever Solutions, an Arizona-based company developing NikZ.

"We're pretty sure it can stop the disease in its tracks," Larwood said.

But human trials require money, and lots of it.

Caused by inhaling fungal spores that grow in the soil, valley fever sickens about 60,000 people each year, and about 150 die from it annually.

"We're trying to do two things here," said Jessica Einstein, the executing director of the Valley Fever Americas Foundation and one of the organizers of Saturday's event.

"First, we want to perpetuate awareness of the disease," she said. "Second, we're trying to raise money to support research."

For years, the disease, also known as coccidioidomycosis, was short-changed when it came to receiving the funding needed to create better awareness, diagnosis, treatment and a vaccine to prevent it.

But advocates hope that's changing.

Dr. Royce Johnson, of Kern Medical Center, said he is optimistic, but he's worried new-generation valley fever drugs will be expensive -- and that insurance companies won't want to cover such treatment.

"How do you get the insurance companies to pay for it?" he asked.

For Shane Cooper, who has been battling valley fever, and the meningitis that came with his infection, it's been about living -- one day at a time.

He takes a dozen drugs to fight the illness and undergoes treatments three times a week. Not long ago, he wasn't sure if he would make it to age 25. Now at 27, he predicts he'll be at next year's walk.

"I'm glad to be here for this," he said. "I'm going to be here next year, too."

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