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Inhaling the spores of the fungus that causes valley fever can cause lung and other problems, and even lead to death.

Community members are invited to attend Valley Fever Research Day Saturday at the UCSF Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research. The event is an opportunity for researchers from UCSF Fresno, UC Merced and Fresno State to connect with community members who have been impacted by the fungal disease.

"The goal is to help us as researchers understand more about valley fever, and about the impact on people's lives, and to form partnerships to make changes, and address issues to improve people's lives," Paul Brown, director of the Health Sciences Research Institute at UC Merced, said.

In September, members of San Joaquin Valley communities gathered for two days in Bakersfield to discuss the latest scientific findings in valley fever and the promise of new efforts to prevent and treat the disease at a meeting convened by U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and the leaders of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Brown said he hopes that community input during Saturday's meeting will shape research into the disease.

"Change has to be made in partnership with communities, not from above," he said.

The forum is one of the first steps in a plan to develop a regional consortium focused on valley fever, which primarily affects people in the southwest.

Michael Peterson, the chief of medicine for the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, said university researchers are interested in collaborating with public health departments in the region and area doctors to create a "virtual" valley fever center. It would be similar to the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona.

"It means that it's not necessarily a bricks-and-mortar building, but rather it's a center that brings together people and expertise, where they are collaborating and communicating, and not always being in the same room," Peterson said.

The goal of the partnership, he said, is to work together to address issues related to valley fever, like improved prevention, detection and treatment of the disease. It could also drum up research funding. At the symposium with the CDC and NIH in September, federal officials announced plans for new funding for valley fever treatments.

"No one of us has the entire picture, but all of us together can really begin to address the full picture of this disease," Peterson said.

Peterson said a plan and timeline for the center has not been established yet, but "the valley has really waited a very long time for something like this to come together. I don't see why, with the interest we have, we can't push forward on a very aggressive timeline."

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the UCSF Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research, 155 N. Fresno St., Fresno.

The Reporting on Health Collaborative involves The Californian, the Merced Sun-Star, Radio Bilingue in Fresno, The Record in Stockton, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana and ReportingonHealth.org. It's an initiative of The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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