July 30 2013
Congressional team to combat Valley disease
By: Allison Gatlin
With the rising number of valley fever cases being reported in his district and across the West, Rep. Kevin McCarthy has created a Congressional Valley Fever Task Force to champion the issue and direct energies toward eventually finding a vaccine.
"Many if not all of us know a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker that has been affected by Valley Fever and our fight against this disease continues," McCarthy said. "I am honored that my colleagues in Congress are joining our community's growing effort to raise awareness and eradicate this disease."
The disease, with the clinical name of coccidioidomycosis or cocci for short, is caused by a fungus found in the soil of parts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The fungal spores may be released when the dirt is disturbed, then breathed into the lungs of those who become infected.
Reported cases of valley fever overall have been on the rise in recent years, according to public health officials in Los Angeles and Kern counties and to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first aim of the task force is to help raise awareness of the disease, which is sometimes considered an "orphan disease" as it is found only in the desert Southwest. People, especially those just visiting the area, may not know they could be susceptible to valley fever. Diagnosis may be hampered by doctors in other parts of the country who are unfamiliar with the disease and its symptoms, which mimic the flu.
The second goal of the task force is working toward better diagnostic and treatment options, McCarthy said.
As an example, he cited a San Diego-based firm, Allermed, which has obtained Federal Drug Administration approval for a valley fever skin test. However, the fee for the company to begin selling the test is $700,000, too high for a product that will have a limited customer base, he said.
McCarthy is working with the FDA on obtaining a fee waiver to allow the company to begin sales of the skin test, and has now enlisted the aid of the CDC and National Institutes of Health.
Finally, the task force will be working in support of an eventual vaccine for valley fever.
"That would be the ultimate goal," McCarthy said, adding he realizes it is not something to be quickly accomplished.
The task force will take part in a congressional meeting next week at the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona in Tucson, McCarthy said. A meeting with experts on the disease from the CDC and NIH is scheduled in Bakersfield in September.
"This is something that should be beyond partisanship because it reaches everybody," McCarthy said.
He has been working on the issue on his own for some time, but decided to bring in others for whom the disease is a concern in their states and districts.
"It's a regional issue," he said, one that does not raise the same concerns for those in states where it is not commonly found.
Joining McCarthy on the task force is Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the Santa Clarita Republican who shares representation of the Antelope Valley with McCarthy.
"I applaud Congressman McCarthy for establishing this task force and look forward to working with him and the other members to do whatever we can to stop this outbreak in its tracks and to prevent future cases from developing," McKeon said.
Also on the Valley Fever Task Force are co-chairman Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz.; Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.; Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.; Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.; Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.; Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif.; Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif.; Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.; Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas; Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz.; Rep. Kevin Calvert R-Calif.; and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.