Skip to main content.

CDC Plans a Valley Fever Public Health Campaign in San Joaquin Valley

Fellowship Story Showcase

CDC Plans a Valley Fever Public Health Campaign in San Joaquin Valley

A Bakersfield congressman says he has helped to launch an upcoming CDC awareness campaign on valley fever and seeks to spur work on a vaccine.

Congressman spurs CDC public health campaign on valley fever
Kevin McCarthy says he will push for vaccine research
Reporting on Health Collaborative
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will visit the San Joaquin Valley later this year to train health professionals and the public in recognizing and defending against valley fever, Congressman Kevin McCarthy said Monday after an in-depth meeting with the agency.

McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, talked with CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden about the challenges of fighting the neglected disease — which sickens an estimated 150,000 people every year, mostly in California and Arizona.

McCarthy said that the CDC will put on a symposium and invite researchers, public health officials, clinicians and advocates in late summer or early fall. He said he intends to ultimately work with researchers and public health officials to secure funding from the National Institutes of Health for a valley fever vaccine.

“The whole thing is to build awareness for the public and for us and to build awareness so we can get the vaccine, so I can drive the issue with the NIH at the same time,” McCarthy said. “The CDC can project a dirt storm like we’ve had in the years before two days ahead of time. You could do that with schools so you’re not outside. … We could prevent a lot just by awareness.”

McCarthy’s announcement follows the publication of the Reporting on Health Collaborative’s “Just One Breath” series investigating valley fever. The Californian is a member of the collaborative.

McCarthy also said that the CDC had agreed to perform some initial analysis regarding the scope and components of a clinical trial to determine the best treatment for the disease.

“What I would like to do in the short-term is a randomized clinical trial, because no facts are proven out there for the best treatment for valley fever,” he said. “It’s still unknown.”

He said he would work with the CDC to determine, “what would the cost be, what would the size of the sample we would need to do, how large would we need to do it?”

McCarthy has enlisted help from Frieden, he said, to write a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration encouraging the office to waive a fee to put an FDA-approved skin test on the market.

Allermed, a San Diego firm specializing in skin tests and allergy-related products, has a skin test to more quickly tell doctors if a patient has been exposed to valley fever. The FDA approved the test in 2011, but the company chose not to bring the test to market because it does not want to pay an annual marketing free required by the FDA.

Allermed would pay more in fees to market the drug than it would take in, according to company vice president Scott Nielsen.

The FDA could waive the fee — estimated at $628,000 — if it believes that the threat to public health is a compelling, national issue.

“In speaking to the CDC, they see that this is a national issue,” McCarthy said.

To actually fund a clinical trial on a valley fever treatment or a vaccine, McCarthy also suggested creating a prize to incentivize drug makers.

“What if we put up a prize for orphan drugs?” he said. “So companies could say it is worthwhile to go after. If we do get it, we get this prize. And you build the awareness that it’s no longer viewed as an orphan disease. Everything builds upon itself to get you to a vaccine.”

Rebecca Plevin and Tracy Wood contributed to this story.

Photo by Casey Christie / The Californian

About This Series

This project results from an innovative reporting venture – the Center for Health Journalism Collaborative – which currently involves the Bakersfield Californian, Radio Bilingüe in Fresno, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, Hanford Sentinel, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana, the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, La Estrella de Tucsón and the Center for Health Journalism. The collaborative is an initiative of the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

RELATED STORIES THIS WEEK

Accurate valley fever counts elude health officials

“Valley fever is almost certainly underreported, due to physicians and the public not being familiar with the disease,” said one infectious disease specialist. Reliable estimates of valley fever cases are still lacking.

CDC technology advances promise better valley fever detection

New sensors in development at the CDC could provide a breakthrough in valley fever detection and prevention throughout the Southwestern United States.

New valley fever skin test shows promise, but obstacles remain

A new skin test called Spherusol can detect whether a person has developed immunity to valley fever. But despite its promise, the test still isn’t in wide use.

FORECASTING AN EPIDEMIC: Does weather hold the key to predicting valley fever outbreaks?

As recently as August, Calif. health officials predicted the number of valley fever cases this year would go down. Now it’s shaping up to be one of the worst years on record.

Public pushes for new thinking in valley fever research

Advocates of valley fever research have complained that the disease does not affect enough people to garner attention and funding; local doctors often misdiagnosed it; most data about the disease dates back decades; and the public has little knowledge of the disease and its impact.

Valley Fever Research Day Aims To Connect With Community

Community members are invited to attend Valley Fever Research Day Saturday at the UCSF Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research. The event is an opportunity for researchers to connect with community members who have been impacted by the fungal disease.

Federal, local officials hopeful for 'new era' in valley fever

Many questions about valley fever remained unanswered Tuesday as public health officials, physicians and politicians finished a two-day symposium on the disease, but many were hopeful that the summit will be a turning point.

Agencies to Launch Randomized Controlled Trial for Valley Fever

Directors of the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell a packed valley fever symposium they are "serious" about finding a better treatment for the disease.