Every year, roughly 90,000 Arizonans are infected with a disease that could kill them.
But that could change soon.
A new drug is being developed to potentially cure Valley Fever since it kills one out of 10 people infected. The Southwest region – Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas – is home to the Valley Fever fungus and Arizona holds the highest fungus count.
About 900 people die each year from Valley Fever and an Arizona company is pushing for the FDA to approve the new drug that eliminates the fungus from staying in the lungs.
In the 1980s, this drug was tested on rats with Valley Fever and seven out of eight rats were cured, said Dr. John Galgiani, University of Arizona professor of medicine and the main researcher for the drug.
Valley Fever Solutions, Inc. (VFS), a U.A. sponsored company, is going through FDA clinical trials and plans on making Nikkomycin Z available in pharmacies by 2017, said David Larwood, CEO and founder of VFS.
Other anti-fungal medications only suppress the infection. Once a person stops taking the medication, the infection could continuously return, said Galgiani.
Valley Fever is a disease of the lungs caused by the fungus Coccidioides species. The fungus is found in the soil from areas of low rainfall, high summer temperatures and moderately warm winters. Arizona holds the highest fungus count.
The fungal spores become airborne when its soil is dispersed through wind, construction, farming or other activities. The spores are then inhaled into the body.
The infection primarily stays in the lungs and the immune system can fight it off, however a more serious infection can enter the blood stream and affect other parts of the body, said Galgiani.
African Americans, Filipinos and Hispanics are more likely to catch serious cases of Valley Fever but doctors are unaware of why certain racial and ethnic groups are at higher risk than others, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Other at-risk patients include pregnant women, people with a lowered immune system (i.e. those with AIDS, cancer, organ transplant surgeries, etc.) and those with diabetes, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Casey Woollard is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News Service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.