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DANGER IN THE DUST: Valley fever vaccine on horizon

New protection coming for dogs
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 7:30 PM MST
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first story from our new podcast series titled Danger In The Dust, which is about Valley fever.

Canine Valley fever vaccine could be on the market in 2022
Canine Valley fever vaccine could be on the market in 2022(KOLD, Jesse Zoller)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - If you don’t know much about Valley fever, you’re not alone. Many people who move to Arizona have never heard of the illness. Some people believe it’s only a dog disease. Others think it only shows up in humans.

The truth is, just about any animal can get infected by this danger in the dust. But because of work done right here in Tucson - protection for dogs is around the corner.

A team, led by Dr. Marc Orbach of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona, has developed a canine vaccine. Veterinarian and microbiologist Dr. Lisa Shubitz is a long-time member of the team, who herself almost lost a dog to the disease she’s trying to fight.

“If it’s your dog, it’s not a statistic anymore,” Shubitz said.

Shubitz works on the team at Valley Fever Center for Excellence in Tucson. They’ve been working on a vaccine for decades. The canine research team’s formula worked on mice to help the body fight serious Valley fever infection. It could be on the market, helping dogs, as soon as next year.

For many pet owners, it can’t come soon enough. Most dogs recover quickly, but an estimated 25 percent will get very sick, requiring surgery or lifelong treatment. It can also kill.

In dogs, the rate of them being seriously sick from it, getting into their bones or their brain, is about 25 percent - where it’s closer to one or two percent in people,” Shubitz told us.

A vaccine could also save a lot of money. Arizonans spend an estimated $60 million a year to treat Valley fever in their dogs.

”It’s not uncommon for the owners I deal with to spend $20,000 to treat a pet,” Shubitz said. “Not all at once, but over the course of years. it adds up very fast.”

People and animals get Valley fever from the same place: a fungi that lives in the soil across much of the Southwest, especially in Arizona. When inhaled, the spores from this fungus can make a person or animal sick.

”At one point, we had about 20 percent of dogs here who’d either had valley fever or had active cases,” said Janet Galante, owner of “Sit, Stay, Play,” a dog social learning center in Tucson. She’s seen many dogs make a full recovery.

But her dear friend’s Viszla, Tyler, wasn’t one of them.

”Tyler went from being a seemingly happy, health dog to a dead dog in about 10 days,” Galante said.

Tyler was only five years old. In Tyler’s name, Janet has held fundraisers for years to help make the vaccine a reality.

”Wouldn’t it be great if we could protect our pets with a vaccine?!” Galante said while playing with her own Viszlas.

Because with that - we protect so much more.

”I really think it will alleviate a lot of suffering in dog and dog owners,” said Shubitz, “Because they really suffer right alongside them.”

Doctors at the Valley Fever Center for Excellence told us, what they’ve learned from the canine vaccine eventually might translate to a human one - but funding is in short supply.

For comprehensive information on Valley fever – check out our brand new podcast “Danger In the Dust,” available now in the Apple Podcasts app, iTunes store or Google Podcasts app. Just search for “KOLD News 13” and click “Danger in the Dust.”

We have three episodes available now, with many more to come. Be sure to hit that ‘subscribe’ button to get updates when new episodes go live.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.