UA Boosts Awareness of Valley Fever
With federal agencies supporting efforts to develop better diagnostic tools and vaccines against the respiratory disease, a public education campaign by the UA's Valley Fever Center for Excellence gains momentum.

By David Mogollón, UA Department of Medicine
Oct. 13, 2015

Haboob_GilbertAZ_Pictowrit_KSM.JPG

A haboob, or dust storm, barrels across the desert near Gilbert, Arizona, in July 2011. Valley fever is caused by the inhalation of fungal spores when soil is disturbed. About 60 percent of U.S. cases of occur in Arizona.
A haboob, or dust storm, barrels across the desert near Gilbert, Arizona, in July 2011. Valley fever is caused by the inhalation of fungal spores when soil is disturbed. About 60 percent of U.S. cases of occur in Arizona. (Photo: Pictowrit)


With two impending clinical trials, Valley Fever Awareness Week, to be observed Nov. 7-15 in Arizona, is bigger than ever this year.

In fact, activities for the 13th annual occasion — held by proclamation of the Arizona governor’s office since 2003 — have grown beyond the official second week in November, with free presentations for the public and health professionals in Tucson and Phoenix scheduled from Oct. 24 to Nov. 18.

The More You Know, the Better

"You can’t prevent valley fever, but it’s important the public know about this disease largely of the lungs so they can ask their doctor when they get sick whether or not it’s valley fever," said Dr. John N. Galgiani, a University of Arizona professor of medicine and founding director of the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence. "A third of all pneumonia cases in Phoenix and Tucson are caused by valley fever, but doctors often may forget to look for it. They’re more likely to do that if patients also know about this possibility and remind them."

Common to the U.S. Southwest and northwest Mexico, valley fever is caused by the Coccidioides species of fungus, which grows in soils in areas of low rainfall, high summer temperatures and moderate winter temperatures. These fungal spores become airborne when soil is disturbed by winds, construction, farming, gardening and other activities. In people and animals, infection occurs when a spore is inhaled. Most exposed people never show symptoms. In those who do, the symptoms resemble those of pneumonia, including cough, chills and chest pain as well as fatigue, fever, headaches and night sweats. Skin rashes or lumps also may occur.

Most people suffering from valley fever recover in a few weeks or months. Of the approximately 150,000 U.S. valley fever infections that occur per year, however, about 160 people die. Two-thirds of these infections affect Arizonans, mostly in the "Valley Fever Corridor" that runs between the state’s two largest cities of Phoenix and Tucson. Pets, especially dogs, also are susceptible to valley fever.

Valley Fever Awareness Week events provide opportunities to hear experts and ask questions about the illness formally known as Coccidioidomycosis.

Infectious Disease Threats

Physicians can get an early preview with Galgiani’s "Coccidioidomycosis Update" lecture on Saturday, Oct. 24, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., at the fourth annual Southwestern Conference on Medicine. The Tucson Osteopathic Medical Foundation event, whose theme is "Infectious Disease Threats in Primary Care," will be hosted at the Tucson Osteopathic Medical Foundation Conference Center, 3182 N. Swan Road, Tucson. Register at www.tomf.org/cme.

Galgiani will discuss the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence’s participation in clinical trials about to start for a National Institutes of Health-funded study for which Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute was awarded a $5 million contract in June to support research into valley fever pneumonia. That funding could grow to $9 million if all contract options are explored.

"We’re working with Duke as an enrollment site both in Tucson and Phoenix at the Banner – University Medical Centers," Galgiani said. "It also involves study sites in California’s Central Valley."

Meanwhile, the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence continues pressing forward in efforts to get a potentially curative anti-valley fever drug, nikkomycin Z, or NikZ, into clinical trials. Those efforts got a boost last October when NikZ won fast-track designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a "qualifying infectious disease product," or QIDP. The UA has been helping to move the antifungal drug into clinical trials and eventually to help patients. It licensed development rights for NikZ to Valley Fever Solutions Inc., a small startup business in Tucson.

Animals Get It, Too

The plan, Galgiani said, is to start clinical trials with dogs first and move to humans later. "Dogs get valley fever just like humans and even more commonly," he said.

Dr. Lisa Shubitz, an associate research professor in the UA School of Animal & Comparative Biomedical Sciences who works on the valley fever vaccine project, said valley fever in animals is a huge problem, with costs affecting dogs alone estimated at about $60 million a year in Arizona. The center isn’t quite ready to begin canine trials.

"We’ve completed some studies and have another about to start looking at how long mice stay immune," Shubitz said. "So far, it’s up to six months. We’re looking to find out at what point the efficacy drops off. That study won’t be completed until next spring."

Events Open to the Public

The public is invited to participate in six Valley Fever Awareness Week events — two in the Phoenix area, three in Tucson and one in Cottonwood, Arizona:

  • The lecture "Valley Fever: The Silent Epidemic," will be held on Monday, Nov. 9, from 9 to 11:30 a.m., at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center, 14502 W. Meeker Blvd., Sun City West, and will feature Dr. Craig Rundbaken, pulmonologist, Arizona Institute of Respiratory Medicine & Valley Fever Clinic, and Dr. Demosthenes Pappagianis, professor of medical microbiology and immunology, University of California, Davis. Pappagianis’ work on clinical trials for a valley fever vaccine in the 1980s underpins today’s efforts, Galgiani said.

  • Tune in to KVOI Radio (1030 AM) on Monday, Nov. 9, at 12:30 p.m., for "What You Should Know About Valley Fever,” an interview with Galgiani on "The Bill Buckmaster Show," with livestreaming online at www.BuckmasterShow.com.

  • A Galgiani lecture, "Valley Fever," will be held on Thursday, Nov. 12, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., in the Great Room at the Arizona Senior Academy at Academy Village, 13715 E. Langtry Lane, Tucson. For reservations, email info@arizonasenioracademy.org or call 520-647-0980.

  • A silent auction at the Coyote Classic Dog Shows, hosted by the Tucson Kennel Club and Greater Sierra Vista Kennel Club at the Pima County Fairgrounds, 11300 S. Houghton Road, Tucson, will be held Nov. 13-16, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will benefit canine vaccine research at the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence. Admission is free. For details: www.CoyoteClassic.org.

  • Alcantara Vineyards & Winery, 3445 S. Grapevine Way, Cottonwood, Arizona, will host a Wine & Noses benefit wine tasting on Saturday, Nov. 14, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with proceeds after expenses going to the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence for canine vaccine research. Tickets are $35 per person.

  • A Valley Fever Stakeholder Meeting will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 17, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix, Health Sciences Education Building, 435 N. Fifth St. This event is co-sponsored by the Arizona Medical Association and the UA Valley Fever Center for Excellence. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention medical epidemiologist Dr. Tom M. Chiller will present current understanding of the public health impact of valley fever, and others will discuss examples of how startup companies in the Southwest are developing improved diagnostics and drugs to address the problem.

Other Events

For medical professionals, "Some of Your Patients Have Valley Fever — Do You Know Which Ones?" by Galgiani will be held on Friday, Nov. 13, from 1 to 4 p.m., during the American College of Physicians - Scientific Meeting at the Doubletree Hilton Tucson, 445 S. Alvernon Way. Register at https://www.acponline.org/about_acp/chapters/az/news_meet.htm.

For the scientific community, Chiller is the featured speaker at the UA’s 20th annual Farness Lecture. His lecture, "There’s Fungus Among Us: CDC’s Fight Against Fungal Diseases," will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 18, from noon to 1 p.m., at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, Room 5403, 1501 N. Campbell Ave. The event will be livestreamed online, where it also will be archived for later viewing, at: http://streaming.biocom.arizona.edu/categories/?id=10.

For more information about valley fever events, visit the Valley Fever Center for Excellence website at www.vfce.arizona.edu.

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