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Getting closer to a vaccine to prevent Valley Fever in dogs

Anivive, UArizona and football star Rob Gronkowski are playing a role in helping keep pets healthy
dog AP
Posted at 6:34 AM, Feb 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-28 12:17:52-05

Valley Fever is an illness unique to the desert southwest and dogs are particularly vulnerable, but hope is on the horizon as researchers move closer to approval for a new preventative canine vaccine.

Valley Fever lives in fungal spores that settle into the ground. People become more susceptible when that dust kicks up in storms or even by leaf blowers. Dogs are closer to the ground and spend a lot of time rooting around in the dirt which makes them more susceptible. For dogs, symptoms can range from lethargy to becoming lame or even open sores. When they get it, it can cost hundreds of dollars to treat — an estimated $60-million cost annually just in Arizona.

Dylan Balsz, the CEO of Anivive, says current treatments are outdated, can be expensive, and can have severe side effects.

"Typically, it gets misdiagnosed as another condition, and they don't get treatment," said Balsz.

His company is working to not just create an updated vaccine but one that would prevent dogs from contracting Valley Fever in the first place.

"This would be part of the vaccine regimen, sort of when they get their puppy shots and all that," said Balsz.

The company has teamed up with the University of Arizona's Valley Fever Center for Excellence, already finding success with a study using a shot and booster with minimal reported side effects. Balsz says it's ready to move toward full approval and could be ready for manufacture within the year. Balsz says his goal is to keep costs at or below the price of current medications so veterinarians can afford it and they plan to get it covered by pet insurance.

The project has also grabbed the attention of UArizona football star and Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski who's now investing in the company and helping promote the research.

Admittedly, Gronk didn't pay Valley Fever much attention in college.

"I just heard about it. I didn't really know how dangerous Valley Fever is, how infectious it could be," said Gronkowski. "I was doing college things but we grow and evolve and learn new things and it's crazy how much Valley Fever is out there in dogs."

Balsz says, moving forward, Anivive is also working on AI X-ray technology that would also improve the detection of Valley Fever in dogs who already have it.

"So, you could do an X-ray on lungs and see it's not cancer, it's not a lesion, it's actually Valley Fever," he said.

The success of a canine vaccine also lays the groundwork for a potential human vaccine. Applications have been submitted to start the investment and testing process.