Can you imagine fighting every day through extreme weakness and pain to care for your children, to go to work, or just to keep breathing? Valley Fever can do that to you.
Now imagine the frustration of knowing there is a potential cure sitting on a shelf somewhere just waiting for the dollars needed to produce enough product to test on humans.
My name is Sandra Larson. I've been a Valley Fever Americas Foundation volunteer for 20 years. Although I've never had VF myself, learning about the disease from Dr. Hans Einstein and Dr. Tom Larwood, and from the many people I've met whose lives have been changed by Valley Fever, has kept me motivated..
Coccidioidomycosis, commonly known as Valley Fever, is caused by a fungus that grows in the ground mostly in the southwestern United States. When the fungus is disturbed, its spores rise up in the air and can float there for months. While it is true that most people infected by breathing in the spores will not become ill, many are profoundly affected. And, unfortunately, the available medical treatments have side effects that also can be life threatening.
Valley Fever usually begins by a spore invading the lungs and finding nourishment there. As the spore grows, it becomes a spherule in which tiny spheres grow. When the spherule bursts, the tiny spheres inside are released to find a place of their own and the cycle is repeated. The irritation to the lung can result in pneumonia. Symptoms may include cough, fever, weight loss, extreme fatigue, night sweats, rash, joint pains and more. Some victims report thinking they are experiencing a heart attack. It is sometimes misdiagnosed as lung cancer.
The tiny sphere can escape the lungs and travel throughout the body doing all manner of injury and insult, even to the brain. This is called dissemination and must be battled for a lifetime.
What does a severe case of Cocci look like? Cheryl Youngblood recalls how relieved she and her children felt when the doctor finally diagnosed her husband's illness as Valley Fever. They felt confident he would recover. Instead, they watched him waste away.
Edith Preller made her sister, Elizabeth Mulikin, learn to say and spell coccidioidomycosis." She made Elizabeth promise to tell anyone who would listen what Valley Fever can do. Edith died in 2008 at age 61.
Readers of The Bakersfield Californian followed the story of Jacalynn Hernandez, who developed a hole in her nose that was thought to perhaps be caused by a spider bite. By the time the cause was identified as Valley Fever, it was simply too late. She died in 2008, shortly before her 18th birthday.
Tyler Bridgewater was an active Standard Middle School seventh grade student and athlete. The disease invaded his brain. He died at age 12. Animal Planet's "Monsters Inside Me" featured Tyler's story Oct. 19, 2012 Season 3, episode 2.
The Valley Fever Americas Foundation was founded in 1995, in part to prevent deaths by helping fund vaccine research. In 2015, after learning of the potential of nikkomycin Z, the organization's mandate was expanded to include seeking a cure. A cure is urgently needed by people and even animals, including dogs and horses, now suffering from this disease.
It is up to us who live in Valley Fever "hot spots," such as Kern County and all of Arizona, to raise funds to learn if NikZ works. An estimated $2 million is needed to produce enough NikZ to get to human trials. Trials will cost an additional $1.5 million. If proven effective, researchers expect investors will step in with the remaining millions required. If all goes well, NikZ could be on the market by 2020.
On May 3, the Kern Community Foundation is hosting one intense and exciting day of online giving to benefit more than 60 local nonprofits. To donate to VFAF, go to givebigkern.org and search for Valley Fever Americas Foundation. You can also donate directly at our Facebook page. Any size contribution will move us closer to the goal.
Imagine our world without Valley Fever!
Sandra Larson served several years as Executive Director of the Valley Fever Americas Foundation. In 2012 she organized the first annual VF Walk. She and her husband George are both retired and live in Shafter.