New Valley fever training is changing medical care and saving lives

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 6:06 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 6, 2023 at 6:10 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Doctors say climate change is leading to the spread of the disease known as Valley fever.

This means more people will get the disease and there’s new training to catch the disease early, before it turns deadly.

The training was prepared here in Arizona at the Valley Fever Center for Excellence.

This training to recognize Valley fever has been years in the making. It’s being used here in Arizona and it’s available to doctors across the country, with the ultimate goal of changing medical care and saving lives.

“The goal is to diagnose Valley fever earlier because if you don’t diagnose Valley fever, all sorts of healthcare is done that is unnecessary,” said Dr. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence.

Arizona is a hot spot for Valley fever, the disease caused by inhaling a fungus spore. Dr. Galgiani said this training will also prevent the spread of the infection. The training outlines important steps to guide doctors including considering the diagnosis, ordering the right tests, checking for risk factors, checking for complications, and initiating management.

“With training, we were able to improve the frequency which that the clinicians at urgent care have been improving and looking for Valley fever when they should be doing that,” he explained.

The training can now be used across the nation and it’s been successful so far. A recent study from Banner Health shows that, with the use of this training, the overall number of tests that were ordered for Valley fever significantly increased.

“When someone comes to urgent care with a respiratory condition that looks like pneumonia, that you think that Valley fever should be tested for it,” Galgiani said. “Our data shows that it’s one chance out of five that that pneumonia was actually caused by this fungus.”

This training is coming at a critical time as cases of Valley fever are on the rise due to the climate crisis. The disease is expected to spread to reach the border of Canada is less than 80 years.

“What’s concerning is the climate is getting hotter in certain areas and that fungus is potentially spreading further out so more and more people are at risk,” said Dr. Sarah Park, medical director at Karius.

Dr. Park said the spread of the disease is a concern.

Most people who develop Valley fever have mild symptoms, but in can be fatal, especially for those who are immunocompromised. Training like the one developed in Arizona will make a big difference for early recognition, especially in areas not familiar with the disease.

“The concern is that we’ll catch them too late and you can die from this disease if it’s caught too late, despite even putting them on the antifungal treatments,” she explained. “So I think that’s the biggest top-of-mind concern.”

The next steps with this training is simply to make it better. Even though this is great progress, Galgiani said there is still a gap between what should be done and what is being done involving Valley fever.