Arizona sees spike in Valley Fever cases

As Arizona sees a huge increase in Valley Fever cases, researchers have developed a new test for speedier diagnosis.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reports more than 900 new cases in November, a 50 percent increase over the prior month. Arizona has 6,853 reported cases so far this year, which is also an increase over 6,101 reported cases in 2016. 

Valley Fever is caused by a fungus in the desert dirt. People get sick if the spores become airborne and they are inhaled, and some people can get very ill.

Arizona Health Services Department Director Cara Christ says people with "an immunocompromised condition, underlying medical condition, or if you are pregnant, you are more at risk for getting disseminated Valley Fever, which can travel through the body to other parts of the body: bones, joints, and even the brain. 

TGen, based in Phoenix, has created a new test to diagnose the disease. The FDA just approved its use in December, and Utah-based DxNA LLC will start marketing the test to doctors and labs in 2018.

"We are looking for the fungus itself, the DNA of the fungus, and what's growing on the lungs, so doctors need to get a respiratory sample and send that to the lab for testing,"  said Dr. David Engelthaler, director of TGen's Pathogen and Microbiome Division. 

A lab can get results from the new test in an hour or two, compared to days or weeks for results from other tests. Developers hope the speedier test will help doctors maker earlier diagnosis and treatment of Valley Fever.

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