The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will undertake a clinical trial to learn more about valley fever, agency leaders announced Monday at the start of a two-day symposium on valley fever, hosted by Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy.
"There are so many things we don't know about valley fever, and the best way to get the answers is to run a clinical trial," said National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins.
Collins said about 1,000 people from the region who are diagnosed with community-acquired pneumonia will need to participate in the trial.
"The point of this trial is to figure out how important is it to diagnose and treat valley fever right away when someone shows up with pneumonia," Collins said. "Doctors don't agree about whether that's important, and they don't know whether in fact the treatment shortens the illness, or makes it less likely that it will get very serious."
The trial will track patients and their health outcomes, to determine which treatments work best. It’s expected to cost millions of dollars.
“Even though right now, funding for medical research is in a pretty tight place, this seems like a priority and we should just do it,” Collins said.
The trial will also help doctors and experts determine which diagnostic tests are most reliable. And, Collins said, it should help raise awareness of valley fever, which is chronically misdiagnosed.
“We don’t necessarily think of it, even in a place like Bakersfield, where this is a common disease, people often times still think of some other kind of pneumonia before they have the light bulb on and think, ‘valley fever, why didn’t I think of that?’” he said.
The announcement was made to the public on Monday evening, during a forum on the disease at the Kern County health department. About 200 people attended the event, and many shared their experiences with the disease and asked questions about it.
Afterwards, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Thomas Frieden said hearing patients’ stories underscored the need for the trial.
“To hear the individual stories and the challenges that people face, just reinforces how important it is that we understand it better, that we understand how to diagnose it better, how to treat it better, how to prevent it better,” Frieden said.
Lisa Limbeck of Rosamond attended the meeting, and was excited to hear about the trial. The 26-year-old has valley fever meningitis, and the fungus has settled in her brain.
“It’s about time somebody opened their eyes. We’ve been dealing with this for quite some time. I’m glad somebody’s finally saying, it’s important enough to be acknowledged,” Limbeck said.
The forum continues today at CSU Bakersfield.