Against the backdrop of an epidemic in Kern County, The Valley Fever for Americas Foundation is hosting a fundraiser Wednesday to drum up funding for a cure to the debilitating respiratory disease endemic to the region.

Valley fever survivors and advocates will be at Dagny’s Coffee Company between 9 a.m. and noon selling awareness T-shirts, then head to John’s Incredible Pizza between 5 and 8 p.m. for a fundraiser.

Proceeds of sales will go to researchers in Arizona, who are developing Nikkomycin Z, a promising medication that has cured valley fever in lab rats.

Researchers have declared it an epidemic year in Kern County, with some experts anticipating close to 2,000 cases by 2017. Meanwhile, Arizona kicked off its Valley Fever Awareness Week Saturday, spreading the word about the little-known respiratory disease.

Valley fever starts with breathing. When soil is disturbed by construction, agriculture or wind, the valley-fever-causing coccidioides fungal spores whip into the air.

If inhaled, those spores become lodged in the lungs. Sometimes the body fights the infection and a person can develop an immunity to the disease, which is the case for most people. But in other cases, the spores take root and move from the lungs to other organs, leading to a lifetime of health problems and, in rare cases, death.

Despite being endemic to Kern County, the disease gets little attention and doctors still misdiagnose valley fever for pneumonia or bronchitis.

Awareness is the key to fighting the disease, said Sandra Larson, a former executive director of the Valley Fever for Americas Foundation.

“The easiest way to get involved is to wear your valley fever shirt Wednesday and post it on social media — a shirt selfie — and get a conversation started about the symptoms and how serious the illness can be,” Larson said. 

John’s Incredible Pizza is at 3709 Rosedale Highway, and Dagny’s Coffee Company is at 1600 20th St.

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