Valley fever in Kern County has been one of the most significant public health concerns in the last generation and we are committed to the fight against it. Every year, the number of people afflicted by Valley fever grows exponentially. The coalition against the disease continues to grow.
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While 40 percent of those affected by this disease are Kern County families, individuals and families across California and across the country are being discovered. In 2016, there were about 1,140 cases in Fresno, Madera, Merced, Tulare and Kings counties. In 2017, the number jumped to about 1,760. It is appropriately referred to as the “silent epidemic.”
Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is a disease caused by fungal spores found in the soil in dusty, dry areas. It is spread through the air by virtually any activity that produces dust. The symptoms can be as common as the flu but can be so severe that it deteriorates the bones, skin, eyes, and even the brain.
With the help of many community leaders, health providers, and public health officials, we have taken on this silent epidemic and broadcast it to our nation’s public health officials.
With the expertise of leaders like Dr. Royce Johnson, the late Dr. Hans Einstein, and the late Dr. Tom Larwood, along with the advocacy of the Valley Fevers of Americas Foundation and countless other volunteers and advocates, we have made significant strides.
And with the Valley Fever Symposium a few years ago, we built a tremendous amount of awareness for the disease that has led to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prioritizing Valley fever research.
This has resulted in millions of dollars in grants for Valley fever researchers over the past few years, including $5 million to conduct a clinical trial on a possible treatment – fluconazole – for this disease, as well as $4.8 million grant to support development of a Valley Fever vaccine.
In addition to federal support, there is a continued and growing effort within the Central Valley to better educate the public of the dangers, symptoms and treatment options for Valley fever, including the annual Valley Fever Walk in Kern County. There is also a concerted effort to educate and train doctors so they can readily identify and provide medical care to patients with this disease.
We know more must be done to reverse the prevalence and severity for victims suffering from Valley fever. Working together, we will do everything in our power to provide resources that will help local health officials and residents get what they need to combat this epidemic, which currently has no known cure.
The best solutions will come from a coordinated effort among federal, state, and local officials to leverage the best ideas and funding mechanisms so we can start seeing real progress on the fight against Valley fever.
On the state level, we are pushing for Assembly Bill 1880 and AB 1881, which will ensure that doctors use the most proven exams to test for Valley fever and will also create a better system for the reporting of Valley fever cases. These measures were drafted with the direct consultation and input of Kern County health officials, who are on the front lines of fighting Valley fever each and every day.
We are building a state-federal partnership critical to enhancing Valley fever research to help find a cure and treatment options. Already the NIH has invested more than $5 million in a randomized Valley fever trial in Kern County to improve diagnosis and treatments.
This is a critical partnership that supplements the local partnerships that have been formed to further enhance education and training efforts. Through our local-state- federal partnerships, we are creating a coalition that is larger than we’ve ever created on this issue.
Fighting Valley fever will be one of our top priorities for the Central Valley in 2018. Together, we can provide the best possible opportunity for our doctors and public health officials to treat their patients suffering from Valley fever. And we can provide hope to so many looking for answers.
Kern County has led the fight against Valley fever and it is our commitment to explore every opportunity to provide the best care for hardworking residents and their families.
Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Kern County, serves on the Assembly Budget Committee and is the Republican Whip. Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is the House Majority Leader.