Dr. Royce Johnson speaks at a press conference announcing a valley fever study. 

The Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical Center launched a new study Monday to learn more about the deadly disease.

The study, in partnership with Duke University, is seeking patients 14 years or older who have been diagnosed with pneumonia within 14 days. A number of those patients will have valley fever pneumonia, said Dr. Royce Johnson, chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at the hospital.

Those who participate in the study will have their blood drawn and be given a physical examination, and be asked to return for follow-up appointments. There is no cost to participants.

The study “aims to understand the clinical course, demographics, laboratory factors and treatment predictors,” according to the hospital.

Johnson said there is much unknown about the disease, and the chance to gather more information about it is worthwhile and could potentially help those who contract it in the future.

Qualifying participants can receive up to $600 to assist with travel costs.

The vast majority of those with valley fever don’t have symptoms and don’t even know they have it, Johnson said. But 1 percent of those affected do “very poorly.”

In 2017, valley fever killed nine people in Kern County and infected 2,929, according to Kern Public Health. No cure exists, but treatments are available.

The disease infects people through fungal spores that live in the soil.

Anyone can get the illness, but those more likely to suffer from it include adults over 60, infants under 1, pregnant women, African Americans and Filipinos, people with diabetes and people with weakened immune systems caused by cancer and chemotherapy, HIV and steroids and organ transplant recipients.

Also at risk are those in certain outdoor occupations such as construction and excavation.

Symptoms of valley fever are described as “flu-like” with cough, fever, headache, chills, night sweats, chest pain rash, tiredness, muscle and joint pain and blood-tinted mucus. To lower your risk for valley fever, avoid breathing in dirt and dust in areas where it’s common, wet down dusty areas before working or playing in them, stay indoors during dust storms and use recirculating air-conditioning in homes and cars.

Duke University in 2015 was awarded a $5 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease for research on valley fever pneumonia. To enroll in the study, call 706-6748.

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