Valley Fever

A cooperative study between the University of California, New York University and the Naval Biological Laboratories, headed by Lt. Felix Rapaport, M.D., set out to discover why some people are immune to Valley fever and why some are more susceptible. The researchers were hopeful that the results would forge a path to a possible vaccine for the prevention or cure of the illness.

For anyone who lives in Kern County, coccidioidomycosis is an unfortunate concern. It goes by several names: San Joaquin Valley fever, California fever, desert rheumatism or most commonly, Valley fever.

The first document case in California occurred in 1901 and since then yearly diagnoses have continued to increase. The battle against the disease has been never ending. The men and women who have dedicated their lives to science and medicine are the warriors at the forefront of the battle. The list includes Drs. Myrnie A. Gifford, Hans Einstein and Thomas R. Larwood, just to name few.

As vital as the science and medical communities are in the fight against Valley fever, there are also everyday citizen volunteers who have done their part. One group in particular should be remembered for their role in an ambitious study that took place in 1957. A cooperative study between the University of California, New York University and the Naval Biological Laboratories, headed by Lt. Felix Rapaport, M.D., set out to discover why some people are immune to Valley fever and why some are more susceptible. The researchers were hopeful that the results would forge a path to a possible vaccine for the prevention or cure of the illness.

For the study, they turned to the Houchin Community Blood Bank. On Sept. 25, 1957, The Californian informed readers that “23 regular blood donors of Houchin Community Blood Bank, first group of “ pedigreed donors” listed nationally because of their unique screening, may make Bakersfield an important scientific research center.”

Houchin was praised by the researchers due to how well prepared the group was for the study. The volunteers chosen were reliable donors who had given blood regularly to help others in need. They were thoroughly screened and declared to be in top physical health. The donors were also chosen due to their reactions to the Valley fever skin test.

Houchin, for its meticulous record keeping, and Bakersfield, for its proximity to areas greatly affected, were also seen as important locations for the research as well.

The group of 23 included: Thomas Andress, Alexander Cordero, Verna Bass, Rita Brooks, Harold I. Dye, Claude E. Mickelberry, Edward J. Richardson, Jr., Cecil F. Ray, Edward Lopes, Ramona Vann, Eldon Holloway, Devon Van Dusen, Robert Abbott, Ronald Schilling, Dean Madeira, James Yerry, Violet Cornelius, Ezio Barsotti, Frank Rosenlieb, Oreste Lencioni, Albert Baldwin, Matthew B. Callagher and James Alford.

The study involved extracting white blood cells from the Bakersfield group and then injecting them into another volunteer group in New York. If the New York volunteers showed sensitivity in a later skin test, that would indicate that a possible immunity may be developed by means of vaccine or some other inoculation method.

The study continued over the next five years. While we know that it did not lead to a vaccine, as one still does not exist today, it was nonetheless another important step in further understanding the immunologic properties of Valley fever.

And it is because of help from a group of generous Bakersfield citizens that it was possible. 

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