NEWS | September 19, 2018

First UC Davis Center for Valley Fever symposium features latest on research and patient care


The number of reported cases of Valley fever in California has risen to its highest levels in the past two years, with the southern San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast areas most commonly affected.  

This data will be the foundation for discussions at a Valley fever symposium being held this week at UC Davis, as part of the university’s nation-leading work on this dangerous fungal infection.

valley fever chart

According to data gathered monthly by the California Department of Public Health, as of Aug. 31 of this year, Kern County leads the state with 1,831 reported cases of Valley fever – a two-fold increase since 2016. Many other counties are also seeing spikes in cases in the last year alone. Monterey County, for example, has had a five-fold increase this year compared with all of 2017. Ventura and San Joaquin each had three-fold increases, and Merced, Santa Barbara and Santa Clara are among those with double the number of reported cases so far this year (through Aug.), as compared with 2017.  

Firefighters who fight wildfires are at higher risk for Valley fever. In 2017, there were several confirmed cases, but given the severe fire season in California in 2018, doctors believe more are likely. Physicians and scientists at the UC Davis Center for Valley Fever are working with the California Department of Public Health, California Prison System and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess the impact on state firefighters.

The UC Davis Center for Valley Fever is an international leader in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Valley fever. It is home to the Coccidioidomycosis Serology Laboratory, which serves as the gold standard reference laboratory for diagnosis, testing both human and veterinary specimens from across the world.

The center has brought together leading experts to discuss the latest research and treatments on Valley fever at a conference on Sept. 20 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility auditorium on the UC Davis campus.

David A. Lubarsky, vice chancellor of Human Health Sciences and CEO of UC Davis Health, will deliver opening remarks to the assembled experts at 9:15 a.m., highlighting the statistics so far this year, the importance of research on Valley fever, and what it means to California and affected areas throughout the world.


The news media is invited to cover Dr. Lubarsky’s remarks, as well as other UC Davis experts speaking at the conference, see their brief bios below:

Difficulties in early detection of Valley fever

George Thompson, M.D., is a national leader in the diagnosis, treatment and research on Valley fever. He is the medical director of the Coccidioidomycosis Serology Laboratory and co-director of the Center for Valley Fever. He specializes in the care of patients with invasive fungal infections and is interested in developing more sensitive diagnostic tests that can identify infection during the first few days to weeks of illness, rather than later when more severe forms of the disease and complications arise.  He has worked with ndustry on the pre-clinical and clinical development of many antifungals that are currently available and is interested developing new agents for the treatment of severe infections.


New directions in diagnosing Valley fever

Ian McHardy, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine, co-director for the Center for Valley Fever, and director the UC Davis Coccidioidomycosis Serology Laboratory, is exploring metabolic byproducts found in patient samples to help create more rapid and accurate diagnostics for Valley fever. McHardy also has experience in bioinformatics and the evaluation of large data sets, which enables an analysis of "real-world" data with significant clinical outcomes.


Valley fever traversing the BBB from lungs to brain

Angela Gelli, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology, studies the mechanisms that allow fungi to cross from the bloodstream and into the central nervous system and brain, causing meningitis. Relatively few organisms — and drugs that could fight brain infections or cancers — can breach this protective blood-brain barrier. By understanding how fungi invade the central nervous system, she hopes to develop more targeted therapies to treat fungal infections like Valley fever.


Valley Fever in dogs, cats and other domestic animals

Jonathan Dear, D.V.M, assistant professor of medicine at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, will talk about Valley fever in animals and highlight the value of monitoring these cases as sentinels for human health and to systematically compare data on animal and human health.


Identifying occupational risks for Valley fever among Hispanic farm workers

Stephen McCurdy, M.D., professor emeritus of public health sciences at UC Davis School of Medicine, studies the incidence of Valley fever in Hispanic agricultural workers in Kern County. His work investigates migrant farmworkers’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs regarding Valley fever and conducts air sampling and comparative research to help identify high-risk activities and those who are most vulnerable.


More information about Valley fever is available at the UC Davis Center for Valley fever website.

Correction: California Department of Public Health and the California Prison System added to those working with the CDC and the UC Davis center to assess impact on state firefighters.