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Fungal Infection Treatment
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After reading a story from Toronto regarding a cure for fungal infections, I became hopeful. According to the article, some fungal infections have become resistant to current treatments---dangerous for those with compromised immune systems, like AIDS or cancer patients. The “cure” apparently targets a protein whose destruction makes anti-fungal medications work more efficiently. While this has only been shown effective in lab studies and mouse experiments, the hope is that this treatment can benefit individuals with life-threatening fungal infections. As a quasi-expert on the infection that nearly killed my son, I have some thoughts.

My son who lives in Arizona contracted Disseminated Valley Fever, a fungal infection caused by spores in the soil.  He had a virulent form that attacked his brain as meningitis, and chewed up his spine in several places. Although he continues to have some fatigue and neurological deficits on his right side, by the Grace of God, he is healing. Now, Valley Fever cases have been reported across the Southwest from California to New Mexico, but the symptoms can be so mild, that victims don’t know they’ve been affected. Additionally, there is a form of Valley Fever that causes cold-like symptoms or a potentially-deadly pneumonia. Equally deadly is the disseminated form which attacks any part of the body at random:  the brain (meningitis), muscles, internal organs, skin, and in cases like my son’s, the bones and joints.

When my son first contracted this illness, he had been living in Arizona for about 15 years which, contrary to popular opinion, did not make him exempt from infection. It is, also, believed that if someone is an Arizona native, they are “immune” to the fungus. “Transplants,” individuals who have recently moved to Arizona, are said to be more vulnerable to infection. Still, there is little actual data on who is at risk of infection; why there is such variation in infections; and whether or not it is possible to prevent the disease. At the moment, Valley Fever seems to be a fickle illness, in some cases attacking more Asians and African Americans with the disseminated form, and in other cases, having no rhyme or reason at all.

One of my growing concerns is that during the mild, southwestern winters, “snow birds,” travel from the northern states to avoid the inclement weather there. These individuals tend to live with family for a few months or to find apartments, motels or second homes to ride out the winter. Stories of snow birds returning North, becoming sick, and being misdiagnosed, are becoming eerily frequent. The danger is, obviously, that if the individual is not properly diagnosed, he or she cannot receive the proper treatment. One story that illustrates this well is about a woman who went back home, met with her family doctor, and was diagnosed with cancer. Supposedly, not long afterward, the woman’s lung was surgically removed.  Still later, her doctor learned that she had Valley Fever and not lung cancer.

When I asked the Centers for Disease Control in 2007, they reported that they were not involved in research on this disease due to the “negligible” number of occurrences in the U.S. overall. However, the University of Arizona and their partners began studies at the Center for Excellence in Tucson. Several well-respected infectious disease control doctors are leading the way in exploring why this disease afflicts some and skips others. Hopefully, the information gained will not only be sent to the CDC for further exploration, but will be sent to other parts of the country as well. Perhaps other studies will examine the current choices of treatment:  first, the least toxic medication is used and, if there is no response, the more toxic drug is tried. What if those studying Valley Fever consulted with those working to fight fungal infections? The end results might include the creation of less expensive and less toxic treatments for Valley Fever.

Meanwhile, the number of those diagnosed with Valley Fever continues to rise. The sooner the CDC and others begin taking a more serious look at this disease, the sooner we can learn who is at risk and what we can do about it. As effective as the current treatments are, less toxic and expensive drugs would benefit more people. Perhaps, especially in light of the Toronto studies, this would be a good time for great medical minds to come together on behalf of those suffering with varying types of fungal infections. These two diverse studies could result in one amazing “cure.”

 

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