News Article

Arizona Community Foundation Targets Valley Fever

Dust StormThe Arizona Community Foundation has awarded a three-year, $150,000 grant to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center for several new programs at the Valley Fever Center in Phoenix. The grant will fund programs that raise awareness about Valley Fever, improve physician training, assist in the coordination of care for Valley Fever patients, and improve access to specialty care for children.

Valley Fever is a fungal infection which develops after inhaling a spore that is released from the dirt by wind or other disturbances. Many people experience no illness and become immune. Others develop a pneumonia-like illness, joint pains, rashes, or severe fatigue that can last for many months. Some people experience severe, even life-threatening spread of the infection from the lungs to other parts of the body.

The Valley Fever Center in Phoenix was established less than a year ago as a partnership between St. Joseph's Hospital and the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix. It is the only comprehensive program in the nation focused on this one disease.

"Health is one of the Arizona Community Foundation's priority areas for funding, and two-thirds of all Valley Fever infections in the United States happen here in Arizona," notes Steve Seleznow, president and CEO for the Arizona Community Foundation. "Now that the Valley Fever Center has been established in Phoenix, the time is right to help it succeed. We hope other foundations, corporations, and large employers in the state will join us in support of these programs."

The grant from the Community Foundation will be paid annually in installments of $50,000 each, with the first awarded this spring.

The first priorities are building awareness and better training for physicians, says Dr. John Galgiani, the Center's Director, whose research into Valley Fever spans four decades. "Less than half of the general population know what Valley Fever is or the illness that it usually causes," he says. "This is particularly a problem for Native Americans, who die from Valley Fever at a rate six times that of Caucasians."

An Arizona Department of Health Services study discovered that only half of the state's physicians felt comfortable managing patients with Valley Fever, and only one-fifth were able to answer factual questions about the disease. Lack of physician understanding is exacerbated by the annual influx of approximately 1,000 doctors newly licensed in Arizona, mostly from areas where Valley Fever is not a large problem.

The grant will also support development of a patient and resource tracking system, which would serve as the basis for estimates of the medical needs that Valley Fever creates and a resource to guide further services development.

"I very much appreciate the leadership that the Arizona Community Foundation is showing with respect to Valley Fever. This grant is a milestone in our Center's development," says Dr. Galgiani. "These funds allow us to expand our outreach to the rest of the state. So much of the Valley Fever problem is in Maricopa County itself, that it makes sense that best practices be developed here. "

Dr. Galgiani adds that in addition to better patient care, the Center will continue its work to find a cure and to produce a vaccine to eradicate Valley Fever altogether-noting that additional funding will be needed in order to deliver on those goals.

A recent news story in the San Francisco Chronicle detailed how Valley fever is killing inmates at two central California prisons. A disproportionately high number of African-American and Filipino inmates are dying from the disease.

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