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WaNPRC AD for Research quoted in Scientific American on the pursuit of a Valley Fever vaccine

As seen in October 2023 issue:
The disease hits farmworkers and outdoor laborers disproportionately hard.

The article discusses the growing threat of Valley fever, a fungal disease caused by Coccidioides, in the western United States, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Valley fever thrives in dry, dusty environments and can be inhaled as airborne pathogens. It is characterized by symptoms such as coughing, fevers, body aches, fatigue, rashes, and appetite loss. The disease disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, including Latino, Asian, and Native American communities, due to their frequent exposure to dusty outdoor locations. Many of those affected lack access to basic healthcare and are afraid to seek medical help due to concerns about employer retaliation or deportation.

The article highlights that Valley fever is underreported, underdiagnosed, and underfunded, with limited research on the disease. Researchers are working to better understand its spread and develop treatments and vaccines. Climate change and environmental factors, such as increased dust exposure, are contributing to the spread of Valley fever, and there is concern that it could extend into new regions in the future.

One potential benefit of a Valley fever vaccine is that it could be a one-and-done kind of thing—unlike those for influenza or even tetanus, which must be updated regularly. According to studies by microbiologist Deborah Fuller of the University of Washington School of Medicine, people who get Valley fever develop lifelong immunity. That, Fuller says, “is the golden egg.”

Dr. Deborah FullerAssociate Director for Research, Core Scientist

Fuller’s research team is actively working on developing both DNA and RNA-based vaccines. These vaccines are designed to stimulate the body to produce specific proteins that can trigger a strong immune response. What makes these vaccines particularly valuable is that they have the potential to do more than just combat Valley fever. They could also serve as a valuable tool for researchers to gain a better understanding of how the immune system responds to other fungal diseases. This research could ultimately lead to improved treatments for a range of fungal infections, providing valuable insights into the field of fungal disease immunology.

Efforts are also underway at both the local and federal levels to address the threat of Valley fever, with some researchers working on vaccines for humans, building on the success of a vaccine for dogs. Funding for Valley fever research has increased in response to rising incidence rates, but there is a long way to go in terms of awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of this fungal disease, especially among vulnerable populations like farmworkers.