Via The Fresno Bee: Fresno research leads to speedier Valley fever test. Excerpt:
Doctors in the San Joaquin Valley have a new, fast way to help diagnose Valley fever using a test developed in a Fresno hospital laboratory.
The new DNA test for the fungal disease -- a first in the state -- can provide results in five hours instead of the two-plus weeks it now takes for a blood or culture test.
The sooner patients with Valley fever can be diagnosed and receive treatment, the better, doctors say. The disease can spread from the lungs, causing meningitis and other problems -- and can be fatal. There is no cure, but drugs can prevent the infection from growing.
Until now, a doctor who suspects a patient has Valley fever would order a blood test. If there's a positive antibody reaction, a sample would be sent to the University of California at Davis laboratory for a confirmation test. A fungal culture test that requires growing the organism is another test option.
"All that takes time," said Dr. Michael Peterson, a pulmonary specialist and head of medicine at the UCSF-Fresno Medical Education Program.
With the new test -- real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) -- the DNA signature of the Valley fever fungus can be detected in a matter of hours. PCR copies a section of DNA that can then be tested on the spot.
The test -- performed on a machine at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno -- became available to patients this month.
The new test won't replace the older, slower ones -- at least for now -- but if it shows a patient has Valley fever, a doctor can start treatment. With negative test results, the doctor can keep looking for other causes of an illness while waiting for results from a blood test, culture or chest X-ray.
A faster diagnostic tool will be useful, said Dr. Claudia Jonah, public health officer for Kern County, the epicenter for Valley fever in California.
However, the challenge is getting doctors to use the test. Too often they don't suspect the fungus is causing a patient's illness, and in many cases the disease is mistaken for bacterial or viral pneumonia, and patients are treated with drugs to no effect, she said.
Valley fever infections, caused from breathing Coccidioides fungal spores, have been increasing at an alarming rate over the past decade, particularly in California and Arizona, where the vast majority of cases occur. Fungal spores also can be found in Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas.