Efforts to grow fungus from soil sample would confirm local infection risk
By Markian Hawryluk, originally published on The Bulletin – click here to see the full article about Valley Fever’s northward spread to Oregon and Washington
This 2016 news about the discovery of Coccidioides growth in Oregon featured an interview with Sharon Filip and David Filip.
Public health officials have thought for decades the coccidioides fungus that causes Valley Fever was found only in the Southwest. The vast majority of cases have been diagnosed in residents of Arizona, California or neighboring states, or in individuals who had recently traveled to those regions. Then, in 2014, the confirmation of three cases of Valley Fever acquired in Washington state launched a search for the fungus throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Now soil samples from two sites in Central Oregon have tested positive for cocci DNA, raising the possibility that local residents could be at risk of contracting the condition without traveling to what had been considered its endemic areas.
…If tests find cocci in Oregon, it could spur greater attention to the disease, uncovering more potential patients and more confirmed cases. That could also bring new advocates among public health and government officials seeking a solution.
Many Valley Fever patients argue public health authorities should do more to warn residents and travelers about the risks. Seattle resident Sharon Filip, 71, contracted Valley Fever in 2001 while visiting her son in Tuscon, Arizona.
“You hear about monsoons; you hear about the scorpions; they have snakes in the desert — but nothing was ever mentioned about Valley Fever,” she said. “None of us were aware it existed.”
Within a week of coming back to Seattle, she got severely ill.
“It was like falling off a cliff,” she recalled. “One day I was fine, and the next day, I couldn’t get my head out of my pillow.”
Doctors tried to treat her pneumonia with antibiotics, but Filip continued to get worse. The fungus had spread to her brain causing meningitis.
“My brain was pulsing like it was trying to come out,” she said. “It was severely painful. You have tears coming down your face.”
Eventually doctors took a sample of fluids from her lungs and diagnosed her with Valley Fever.
Her son, David Filip, a freelance writer, began to research the condition, and they published a book, Valley Fever Epidemic, that many patients refer to as their Cocci Bible. They’ve also launched an informational website, ValleyFeverSurvivor.com, and have more than 1,000 patients in a closed Facebook support group.
The Filips have been urging public health authorities to be more outspoken about the risks of Valley Fever and to reveal what sites have tested positive for cocci. They were particularly dismayed when officials in Washington state wouldn’t provide information where the positive soil samples were found.
“Shouldn’t people have the right to know what could happen to them if they go into a particular areas?” she asked.
Chiller said it’s up to state agencies to determine how much detail to provide about where the positive soil samples were found. But he argues the actual site might not be what’s important.
“I can go to Arizona and sample an area that I know has cocci and not find it,” he said. “So what I’m worried about is not so much the over interpretation of the positive, but maybe an over interpretation of a negative.”
It might be more helpful, he suggested, to let people know there’s a risk throughout the county, rather than to mislead them to thinking the risk is contained in just a few spots.
DeBess said Oregon officials are more likely to talk about even broader regions of risk.
“We would probably say this could potentially be a problem in Eastern Oregon, period,” he said. “It’s city-related; it’s not county-related. It’s all over.”