Local Valley fever research to be published in scientific journal

07/17/2014 11:28 PM

07/17/2014 11:29 PM

Researchers at UC Merced and UCSF-Fresno recently completed a literature review on Valley Fever, scheduled to be published later this month in the scientific journal “Microbes and Infection.”

“Valley Fever: Danger Lurking in a Dust Cloud” is a 34-page article that gathers everything known about the illness and the impact it has on communities.

According to one of the authors, Erin Gaab, a postdoctoral researcher in health psychology at UC Merced, the purpose of the article is to provide other researchers with a general, more up-to-date overview of Valley fever.

Also known as the “silent epidemic,” Valley fever is an illness caused by coccidioides, a fungal parasite found in soil. According to the review, the fungus is common in dry, low rainfall regions such as the southwestern U.S., Central America and South America. In California, the illness has been found in many areas of the San Joaquin Valley.

Valley fever occurs when microscopic fungal spores are inhaled. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that researchers estimate more than 150,000 people a year are affected by Valley fever, although most cases go undiagnosed.

According to the literature review, most people infected will show no symptoms, but about 40 percent will show flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, headaches and muscle aches. In many cases, according to authors, the immune system will resolve the infection, but if not properly diagnosed some cases can result in more severe symptoms.

Larry Johnson, a Ph.D student at UC Merced and co-author of the literature review, said one of the main concerns about Valley fever is misdiagnosis.

“One of the downfalls is that many times it will be misdiagnosed as lung cancer because doctors are not as familiar with Valley fever,” Johnson said.

“There’s a lot to be learned ... how to recognize it, how to treat it and how to prevent it,” he added.

Johnson also explained that when it comes to research, Valley fever may be overlooked because there is not a high number of deaths associated with the illness. However, he believes it’s a large problem because of the hospitalization costs associated with the disease, which are estimated to total more than $2 billion.

Gaab and Johnson worked alongside UC Merced’s Department of Molecular Biology professors David Ojcius, Katrina Hoyer and Clarissa Nobile, as well as with research assistants Javier Sanchez and Phong Bui. Michael Peterson, UCSF-Fresno’s chief of medicine, also contributed to research for the literature review.

Researchers have been working together for about a year. Next, they plan to take part in an initial study in which they will look into how the immune system responds to Valley fever infection.

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