Researcher Takes First Step Toward Improved Diagnosis for Valley Fever

November 28, 2018

Clinicians searching for a new way to identify Valley fever patients who will develop the disease’s worst symptoms will find hope in a new paper by UC Merced Professor Katrina Hoyer .

A research project led by Hoyer and former UC Merced researcher Dan Davini, in collaboration with Madera’s Valley Children’s Healthcare, defines characteristics of blood cells that correlate with Valley fever symptoms. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published the study .

“I am really excited about these results,” Hoyer said. “Right now, doctors who diagnose patients with Valley fever can’t tell whether they have to aggressively treat the disease and potentially cause additional harm to the patient or take a gentler approach that allows the patient’s body to clear the infection on its own.

“Our study points the way to a diagnostic tool that can answer that question.”

Valley fever is most common among adults who work outdoors. The disease comes from a fungal pathogen that becomes airborne when dirt is stirred up, such as during windstorms, when ground is broken for development or when workers harvest tree nuts.

The disease has reached record numbers in California but had been limited largely to the Southwest. However, the fungus has recently been found in eastern Washington, suggesting that changing climate is widening the region affected by Valley fever.

One of the most puzzling aspects of Valley fever is why some people get sick while others do not.