Valley fever clinical trial announced in Calif.

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) -- Federal officials have announced a clinical trial to study how best to treat valley fever, a potentially deadly fungal infection that is prevalent in California and Arizona.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health made the announcement Monday at a symposium about the infection in Bakersfield, according to newspaper reports.

"We don't exactly know what the best treatment is for valley fever, and this is why we need a clinical trial," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.

The clinical trial will involve about 1,000 patients diagnosed with community-acquired pneumonia, the most common presentation of valley fever. Half the group will be randomly chosen to receive a placebo and an antibiotic used to treat bacterial pneumonia. The other half will get the antibiotic plus an antifungal medication frequently used to treat valley fever.

Officials say the goal is to determine whether patients on the antifungal medication do better.

The study is not expected to get underway for at least another year, NIH Director Francis Collins said. Results are not expected for several years.

"We all recognize that there's more that needs to be done. There's so many unknowns," Collins said. "We don't know exactly what the right treatment is for people who become infected with this fungus."

The fungus that causes valley fever is found in soil and can be contracted by breathing in the spores from dust disturbed by wind or other activity. In most cases, the fever results in no symptoms, but in about 40 percent of the cases it causes mild to severe flu-like symptoms or more serious infections. In can also spread to the brain, bones, skin and eyes, leading to blindness, skin abscesses, lung failure, even death.

The fever is prevalent in arid regions of the U.S., especially in California and Arizona, as well as in Mexico, Central and South America. In California, rates of reported fever cases increased by more than six-fold over the past decade. Fever cases rose from about 700 in 1998 to more than 5,500 cases reported in 2011, according to the CDC.

A federal court in San Francisco ordered California earlier this year to move thousands of inmates out of two Central Valley prisons where valley fever has led to widespread illnesses.

Royce Johnson, professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and Kern Medical Center's chief of infectious disease, welcomed news of the clinical trial.

"There is a real difference of opinion about who should be treated, when they should be treated and how much they should be treated with," Johnson told the Bakersfield Californian. "It would answer some of those questions."

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