Oct 14, 2014

Bakersfield Observed: Leader McCarthy: While the world focuses on the Ebola virus, the Central Valley continues to battle Valley Fever

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BAKERSFIELD OBSERVED | October 11, 2014

House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy gives us his weekly view from Capitol Hill. In his words:

“The health of family and friends is so often at the top of our minds that we toast to good health at dinners, take daily vitamins to keep our immune systems strong, carry around small bottles of de-sanitizer in our bags and pockets, and console those who have fallen ill.  And as we are all aware, the front pages and nightly news programs over the past month continue to lead with the spread of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I share the concern of many about this disease making its way onto our shores.  Our public health officials are working diligently to ensure any cases that are found here at home are isolated immediately as well as preparing to control and ultimately defeat this horrible illness in the West African countries where it has stricken thousands.

“We also know that more must be done about indigenous diseases as well.  In the arid Central Valley, we have a disease called Valley Fever that is also a frequent topic in our local and regional news.

“For decades, so many of our neighbors were stricken with an illness that could not be identified or treated with any certainty that one would be fully healed. Much of the country outside of the Valley, including the medical community, was virtually unaware of it. This led to frustration and concern in our communities over the seemingly helpless fight. It left us with only the blind hope that a loved one wouldn’t contract the disease.

“It is my goal to change that.

“Our community symposium last year has focused much needed attention on Valley Fever, and our discussions have not stopped. Recently, I discussed our current effort with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I remain in contact with CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins as we continue our work to raise awareness about the disease as well as develop our random clinical trials on Valley Fever treatments.

“Just this week, it was announced that Kat DeBurgh, who has been working with us to develop a continuing medical education program on Valley Fever, will be taking over at the Health Officers Association of California (HOAC) as their Executive Director.  She has been instrumental in HOAC’s efforts to educate California doctors and public health officials on this disease. A Valley Fever CME raises awareness of this disease with medical providers, helping them make earlier diagnoses that can potentially reduce the length and severity of Valley Fever in patients. I look forward to continuing to work with Ms. DeBurgh on Valley Fever and other important public health issues in the Central Valley and California.

“While the fight against any unknown pathogen can be long, just a year after the Valley Fever symposium, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released positive news that a potential treatment drug for Valley Fever was going to be fast-tracked into clinical trials. In 2012, Congress passed what was called the GAIN Act, which helps provide support for treatments for fungal and bacterial diseases. The news of a potential treatment, nikkomycin Z, entering the critical clinical stages through the GAIN Act highlights the strides our community has made in fighting Valley Fever.

“More progress must be made and we continue to collect real data on this potential treatment. But progress alone towards curing a disease that was largely off the radar of health officials no more than four years ago gives us reason to be optimistic that our neighbors who are suffering from the disease could soon find relief and that future generations will not have to resort to hope alone in the fight against Valley Fever.

“Enough cannot be said of the hard work of the people in our community, from Dr. Claudia Jonah, the Einstein family, the Larwoods, Dr. Royce Johnson, and countless others, who make the time and commitment to continuing the fight against a disease that has affected too many of our loved ones.”