With 2019 coming to a close, I’d like to give you a quick update on one pressing issue affecting our community – Valley Fever.
As many of you know, Valley Fever is an infectious disease caused by inhaling the spores of a fungus typically found in the Central Valley. As of November 30, 2019, the California Department of Public Health has reported an over ten percent increase in California cases compared to the first eleven months of 2018, and yet there is still no approved cure or vaccine, and treatments remain limited. This is clearly a significant public health concern, and the University of California recently estimated that “direct and indirect lifetime costs of 2017 cases” will amount to approximately $700 million overall.
It’s time to stamp out Valley Fever.
In order to fight this orphan disease, increasing awareness and funding through legislation, grants, and leveraging existing government programs to incentivize drug development is key. Here are a few highlights of the progress we have made this year.
I secured a $2 million increase in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand Valley Fever surveillance, research, and awareness efforts in the federal government’s 2020 budget.
Additionally, I also secured a provision in the Fiscal Year 2020 Defense Appropriations Bill that encourages the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to research Valley Fever’s effect on service members stationed in our community and limit its impact on military readiness.
This funding follows a meeting earlier this year when I invited leading researchers, patient advocates, doctors, and officials from the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the United States Capitol for a roundtable discussion on Valley Fever. I encouraged my colleagues in the House to attend this meeting to hear directly from these experts on the need to further invest in research and efforts to eradicate this disease. This was an important opportunity for members to receive updates, and a productive discussion to advance our fight against Valley Fever.
Shortly after the roundtable, I – along with U.S. Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Congressman and Congressional Valley Fever Task Force Co-Chair David Schweikert (AZ-06) – introduced the FORWARD Act to address the short-term, medium-term, and long-term challenges to detecting, treating, and eventually eradicating Valley Fever.
Since then, I have also written two letters advocating for continued drug, vaccine, and diagnostic development. The first was addressed to Health and Human Services Secretary Azar urging inclusion of Valley Fever in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher (PRV) Program. This would help incentivize needed investment into Valley Fever drug and vaccine development.
The FDA has since indicated it is in the process of reviewing Valley Fever for inclusion in the PRV Program. The public comment period is currently open.
The second letter was to NIH Director Collins in support of a Small Business Innovation Research grant request of $3 million to conduct studies to develop better diagnostic tools for Valley Fever, including a rapid diagnostic blood test. The Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical would participate in this study by recruiting patients to enroll and test the accuracy of these new diagnostics upon award of the grant.
Lastly, the Valley Fever Institute is participating in an ongoing NIH Valley Fever research study to help us better understand the disease impact and treatment regimen. It is important that we spread awareness of this study and encourage individuals to enroll so we can work together as a community to turn the page on Valley Fever.
Addressing Valley Fever will require a multifaceted approach involving state, local, federal, and agency collaboration. Though progress has been made to eradicate this disease, there’s more work to be done. For years, combating Valley Fever has been a top priority of mine, and throughout my time in Congress, I am proud to say that I have secured millions of dollars to help with better understanding Valley Fever, and I will continue fighting for our community so that this disease can finally be eliminated.
If you’re interested in learning more about Valley Fever, please visit the CDC’s website.