Jean Fuller: Valley Fever fight starts with awareness and ends with a cure

(Opinion Editorial appeared in the Bakersfield Californian on August 5, 2018)
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Valley Fever is a devastating disease that impacts thousands of Californians a year, with the majority of those victims located right here in Kern County.

Because Kern County has one of the largest populations of Valley Fever victims in the country, I became aware of this disease well before I became a legislator. I saw firsthand how it impacted my students and their families while I was an educator, and I heard the devastating stories from family and friends who earned their livings working outside.

While many of us in the Central Valley have heard of this disease, many more have not despite it being a statewide health issue.

This is why, for nearly a decade, I have been working with experts and victims of Valley Fever to help raise awareness of this devastating and deadly disease and to impress upon my colleagues how horrible and prolific this epidemic is in California and Kern County.

After years of outreach efforts, including the promotion of August as Valley Fever Awareness Month, my Senate and Assembly colleagues have become increasingly aware that Valley Fever must be a higher priority.

I am thankful that my legislative colleagues, and the governor, have joined me this year and included my request for $3 million to be provided to the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical. While this seems like a no-brainer, securing this funding and bringing it back to Kern County has long been a struggle and took some convincing. But in the end, this relatively small expense in the state’s budget will be an extremely effective investment that will reap big rewards in the fight against Valley Fever.

Thanks to this investment, the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical will be able to:

  • Expand and renovate the current clinical space to treat the inflow of patients from all over California that seek to receive care at the Institute.
  • Increase awareness and educate the state wide public about Valley Fever.
  • Increase awareness and educate physicians and providers about how to properly diagnose and treat Valley Fever.
  • Expand research efforts, including clinical, diagnostic and epidemiological studies.
  • Build a repository for storing white blood cells, serum and tissue specimens from individuals with Valley Fever of all levels of severity, allowing new ideas to be tested in a rapid fashion. This will allow researchers throughout the state of California to access the laboratory.

In addition to the $3 million for the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical, the overall 2018/19 state budget includes $2 million in one-time expenditures for Valley Fever outreach and research at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and $3 million for the University of California (UC).

While the investment into CDPH and UC are necessary and very important to our overall Valley Fever fight, I have no doubt the Valley Fever Institute is in the best position to improve treatments, educate the public and ultimately find a cure for Valley Fever, which is why I pushed so hard to bring these resources to Kern County and Kern Medical.

Sen. Jean Fuller represents the 16th Senate District, which is comprised of large portions of Kern, Tulare and San Bernardino.