NAU professor develops breakthrough in diagnosing valley fever

NAU professor Paul Keim and his team at TGen have created a valley fever test that could yield results within hours.

More than 150,000 people are diagnosed with valley fever every year. 

Sixty percent of all cases worldwide are diagnosed here in Arizona, yet there is no common way of testing for the disease. 

That is why Northern Arizona University professor Paul Keim has teamed up with TGen to create the first FDA-approved test. 

What is valley fever?

Valley fever is caused by a fungus that has adapted to living in very hot soils. For that reason, valley fever is only found in the Southwest, mostly in Arizona and California. 

If you've lived in the Valley for a few years, chances are you've already had it but you may not have known. 

Two-thirds of people will never show any signs of the disease, but one-third will have flu-like symptoms, pneumonia, or worse. 

In really severe cases, the fungus can grow in the bones, muscles or even the brain, sometimes resulting in death. 

"The real problem is, it doesn't get diagnosed correctly all the time. And so if you end up really sick, and the doc doesn't know you have valley fever, they're not going to treat it correctly. That's why this diagnostic test is so important," said Keim. 

How is the new test different? 

The most common (current) way of testing requires taking a sample of your blood and waiting to see if the fungus grows under a microscope, but that could take up to three weeks.

Keim's new test works by taking a blood or lung fluid sample and putting it in a machine that spins very fast and extracts the fungus data within hours. 

"You want to be on the right drugs, the anti- fungal drugs right away. You don't want to wait three weeks, because in that three-week period the fungus is continuing to grow and it's continuing to impact your health," said Keim. 

The new test will also work on dogs.

The FDA could approve it as soon as the end of this year. 

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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