UC Merced to present Valley fever lecture series

aibarra@mercedsunstar.comMarch 13, 2014 

— UC Merced’s Health Sciences Research Institute is taking the next step in educating residents about Valley fever by leading a 12-lecture series designed to tackle questions about combating the illness and its effect on the community.

The series, which will run from March to May, will open with a lecture titled “Clinical Considerations in Coccidioidomycosis” from 1 to 3 p.m. today at the university campus’s Social Sciences and Management Building. This lecture will be presented by Nathan Stockamp, M.D. and assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCSF Fresno.

Valley fever, also labeled as the “silent epidemic,” is an illness caused by a fungus parasite found in soil, known as coccidioidomycosis. This fungus is common in dry, low rainfall areas of the United States including the San Joaquin Valley, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infection occurs when microscopic fungal spores are inhaled. The CDC reports that researchers estimate the fungus infects more than 150,000 people a year, many of whom never know the cause of their illness or have a mild case that goes undiagnosed.

Symptoms, which can appear from a week to three weeks after the fungal spores have been inhaled, range from flulike symptoms and joint pain to weight loss. More severe cases can cause chronic pneumonia, meningitis or even death.

According to the CDC, groups of people including blacks, Asians, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems are at higher risk for infection.

“The aim of the lecture series is to raise awareness of a largely silent disease that has a significant impact on the San Joaquin Valley,” said professor Paul Brown, director of the campus’s Health Sciences Research Institute in a press release. “Great strides are needed to enhance prevention, detection and treatment.”

Some of the issues that are scheduled to be addressed include the epidemic’s impact on farmworkers, children and the economy. The misconceptions of Valley fever and the challenges in treating the disease will also be discussed.

“This lecture series is being offered to heighten awareness and to take another step in promoting research. It is a rare disease in other parts of the country, so it doesn’t get enough attention or funding,” said Brandy Ramos Nikaido, director of external relations and special projects at UC Merced’s Fresno Center.

The lectures are open to the public and are free of cost. A list of all the lecture dates can be found on UC Merced’s University News webpage, at www.ucmerced.edu/news.

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra@mercedsunstar.com.

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