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UC Merced researchers hoping research findings will lead to Valley fever breakthrough

Posted at 8:06 PM, Nov 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-28 23:06:28-05

Research being done at University of California, Merced could have a big impact on the fight against Valley fever in Kern County.

Assistant professor Katrina Hoyer helped lead a research project that's aiming to identify patients who are most susceptible to Valley fever. People with Valley fever are infected by spores in the soil from the fungus coccidioides, ones that are prevalent in Kern County. At the time of diagnosis, doctors have a difficult time being able to tell if patients will be have mild symptoms or if they will develop the severe chronic infection that can prove fatal. The research team at UC Merced is hoping to change that.

"With this information we wanted to identify how the immune response might correlate with disease outcome," Hoyer said.

She says their research showed that people with more regulatory T cells in their body are more susceptible to chronic infection. Hoyer believes those excess cells prevent the immune system from fighting the infection off, but it's unclear where those cells come from.

Hoyer says one goal for this study is "to identify patients who are likely to develop chronic infection, in the hopes that they might be able to treat them more aggressively early in their infection," she said. Treatment for Valley fever can be expensive and hard on the body, so doctors don't always treat agressively. Hoyer is hoping this research will give them an idea of who they should treat agressively to catch the infection as quickly as possible.

She wants to conduct a larger study with more patients when UC Merced opens a new medical facility in 2020. The school is also conducting research in hopes of battling misdiagnosis, another big issue for Valley fever patients. For more on UC Merced's findings and their plans going forward, click here.