Genetic tests on pets could lead to better treatments for Valley Fever

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Dr. Billy Hendrix, DVM at Alta Vista Veterinary  Hospital, says he always gives a good listen to how pets are breathing when they come in.

“We see Valley Fever oftentimes, even on a daily basis,” Hendrix said.

He says up to 90 percent of all pets will be affected by Valley Fever and while breathing problems are the most common sign, left untreated, it can be far more serious.

”The most complicating things we see with Valley Fever outside the common respiratory things, are often skeletal-related,”  Dr. Hendrix explained. “So often we see severe bone infections, The infection can deteriorate the bone to the point that it fractures and oftentimes it can cause a lot of discomfort and sometimes result in death or euthanasia. It is very, very serious.”

So while Dr. Hendrix is always on the lookout for Valley Fever, Dr. Bridgett Barker, PhD with TGen, (Translational Genomics Research Institute) is busy looking at Valley Fever. 

“I am really interested in understanding why certain people and certain dogs get more severe illness," Barker said. "When they are exposed to the valley Fever fungus,” she said.  

Barker is actually looking at the Valley Fever fungus itself but she also needs to know how it affects the host, or in this case our pets.

“And so if we can understand host genetics on the dog side, we hope to translate that to host genetics on the human side,” she said.

To do that they have teamed up with the Arizona Humane Society to gather genetic material. Dr. Robyn Jaynes, DVM with the Humane Society, explains what they are dong.

“They are collecting saliva from dogs of all different types of breeds and ages, some with valley fever and some without Valley Fever.” Jaynes said.

Dr. Jaynes says they already know some dogs have a more severe response.

“And that is part of what the research is trying to find. What makes a dog more prone to it and are there things we could do differently to prevent it?” Jaynes said.

She added while Valley Fever can usually be treated with anti-fungal medication, it is not a cure.

"Right now we treat it with anti-fungals that is really the best course of treatment for Valley Fever," Jaynes said. "But, it can be very long courses of treatment. In fact, some dogs are treated for their whole life, they are not able to come off the medication.”

Barker says by looking at the disease from a genetic level they will be able to find if there are variations in the fungus itself or certain dogs that make them more or less vulnerable which could lead to better treatment for man and pets alike.

“We might be able to do treatments where people get not only the standard antifungal treatment but also something that helps support their immune system," Barker said. 

Barker noted finding a vaccine would be the gold standard and this research could help lead to that but, right now, there is no way to prevent Valley Fever, even if your pet never goes outside.

So, Dr. Hendrix says make sure to watch for breathing problems and get your pet to the vet if you notice symptoms.

“You should let the professionals really look into that for you,” Hendrix said.

Barker says so far, they have seen some evidence that beagles and boxers are more prone to the disease but they still need to do more research. And for that they need more dogs. They are looking for dogs with Valley Fever and those without.

All it takes is a simple saliva swab, if you are interested in having your dog help with this research you can find information at the TGen website

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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