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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA research center studies ways to eradicate valley fever

    Coccidioidomycosis, more commonly known as valley fever, is an infection caused by a fungus that generally grows in soil prevalent in regions of Arizona and California.

    Dr. John Galgiani, founding director of the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence, provided information about the pathway of this fungal infection.

    “After it rains and the soil dries, the spores from the soil will inhabit the air causing infection to all those who breathe in the spores,” Galgiani said.

    Valley fever infects 10,000 to 20,000 people in California and Arizona each year. Two-thirds of these people will not feel sick — their immune system will control it — but the other third will get pneumonia, according to Galgiani.

    “Yet this is a big underestimate, as probably two to three times this number get sick, but will not be reported because there is a lack of proper diagnosis,” Galgiani said.

    Symptoms of this illness include fever, chest pain and coughing. It can take the body weeks or months to control the infection once it enters the body, but only a small percent of people will develop complications.

    “Two-thirds of all valley fever cases in the United States originate in Arizona,” said Galgiani. “We should be paying attention to it.”

    The Valley Fever Center for Excellence aims to “educate the public with research and improve the care of people who have this disease,” according to Galgiani. Incorrect diagnoses may lead to situations where imporper care is given, resulting in greater healthcare costs.

    Research has been done at the UA regarding valley fever vaccination. Dr. Marc Orbach, associate professor of plant pathology and microbiology, developed a valley fever vaccine.

    “Orbach genetically modified a fungus so it no longer caused disease,” said Galgiani. “By using it as a vaccine, immunity is created in [mice], at least, which provides a promising future for use by dogs and humans.”

    In addition, research into nikkomycin Z, an antifungal drug, was sponsored by the UA.

    “Phase one safety trials of NikZ showed that the drug was safe,” said Galgiani. “Once the drug is tested, people with valley fever can start using it.”

    Currently, there are no clinical trials involving nikkomycin Z being conducted at the UA. A phase one trial with 33 participants was completed in 2009. A subsequent trial involving the drug was terminated in 2013 due to problems recruiting subjects.

    Another clinical experiment done at Campus Health Service compared students who had valley fever to students who had mononucleosis, another disease known to be long and drawn out. This study showed that twice as many students got mononucleosis as valley fever, but twice as many students with valley fever dropped out the first semester.

    Follow Priyanka Hadvani on Twitter.

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