McCarthy vows fight to end Valley Fever

By Patric Hedlund

Just a day before a federal order was issued to remove vulnerable inmates in California prisons from areas where they might contract Valley Fever, a telephone press conference was held by Kevin McCarthy, who represents the Mountain Communities in the U.S. Congress (Dist. 23–Bakersfield).

He was in Atlanta, Georgia touring labs at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) with Tom M. Chiller, MD one of the world’s top experts on environmental diseases.

McCarthy said he wants to find a way to effectively test for, treat and prevent Valley Fever. He said California spends $23 million a year on medical care for inmates with the illness. Recently there has been an epidemic of inmate deaths from the disease.

Kern County and the Antelope Valley area of northern Los Angeles County have the largest number of Valley Fever cases, outside of Arizona.

It is caused by inhalation of microscopic fungal spores that travel on airborne dust. Grading and construction in dry climates brings the spores to the surface. If  inhaled, the fungal infection may begin to grow in the lungs and other parts of the body. Humans, dogs and cats have been diagnosed with the disease.

McCarthy said he finished his CDC tour by meeting with Thomas Frieden, MD who has been director of the CDC since 2009.

“I’m interested in a short term and long term plan,” McCarthy explained, saying he believes he has secured a commitment from CDC “to come to Bakersfield to put on a Valley Fever symposium to bring awareness to the community about this disease.”

In the short term, he repeated, “we want to have a reliable test available.”

McCarthy said he believes that a firm from San Diego has such a test available, but that it was being held up in its release to the public because of up to $680,000 in fees required by the Federal Drug Administration. The House Majority Whip said he wants to try to get the FDA to waive that fee.

In the midrange, he spoke about funding a study to define ‘best practices’ for treatment of Valley Fever. The long term goal, he said, is to work toward a vaccine for prevention. He said a partnership between state and federal resources needs to be assembled.

The Mountain Enterprise asked if he was aware of the impact on public health of poor dust abatement strategies by the solar energy utility facilities being built in Kern County and the Antelope Valley and  the need for baseline studies before construction begins. He agreed to continue that conversation.

This is part of the May 3, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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