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JUST ONE BREATH: Valley fever treatments can do harm as they heal

December 8, 2012

BY YESENIA AMARO AND TRACY WOOD Reporting on Health Collaborative:

Thousands of California and Arizona adults and children annually contract valley fever and find themselves battling the disease for months or years — missing work and school, spending weeks in the hospital — with frequent recurrences.

If they had a bacterial infection — food poisoning, strep throat or a boil on the skin — their doctor could reach for multiple, cost-effective antibiotics that usually are able to kill the bacteria, even though resistance to antibiotics is on the rise.

If those same patients acquire an internal fungal infection, though, their doctors have far fewer options.

Current treatments can take so long to work that they allow the disease to spread, becoming more damaging and more deadly. Many of the treatments are extremely expensive, costing thousands of dollars a month. While scientists are working to perfect new treatments, valley fever and other fungal infections have been so low on the national priority list that treatment research doesn’t receive much funding.

It’s “a clear, unmet clinical need,” said Dr. Joseph Heitman, chairman of Duke University’s Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

Even when treatments do fight off valley fever, they can cause significant side effects. Pregnant women can’t take the most common and least expensive treatment, the antifungal pill fluconazole, because of extreme fetal side effects. Other treatments can cause fatal heart or kidney damage.

“In some patients, the treatment is as harsh as the disease itself,” said Dr. Arash Heidari, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA and an infectious disease specialist for Kern County and Kern Medical Center.  

Hundreds of people throughout the United States in recent weeks discovered the difficulty of treating fungal infections during the outbreak of fungal meningitis caused by tainted steroidal drugs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported as of Dec. 3 that 36 people died and a total of 541 people in 19 states were infected with fungal meningitis linked to tainted medication manufactured by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.

Although the fungus that causes that disease is different from the one that causes valley fever, many of the drugs used to treat it are the same.

 

Read the full article on The Bakersfield Californian website.