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Valley Fever: Pet vaccine may be available soon

Could lead to human vaccine against Valley Fever
Posted at 7:47 PM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-11 22:47:17-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Valley Fever can be devastating to people and pets. But there’s a vaccine on the way to protect dogs---and maybe people.

People just love dogs and there is something in the Arizona desert that makes life very dangerous for them and can lead to tough choices for the people who love these animals.

The danger is in the dust. It harbors the fungus that causes Valley Fever. Dogs live with their nose to the ground so they’re especially likely to catch it. Margaret Hardy’s dog Xena has it in her lungs and in her bones.

“She certainly suffered with it. A lot of discomfort and pain in the early months when we had her she was on painkillers for a long time.”

She knew Xena had Valley Fever when she adopted her from Pima Animal Care Center. She says skillful treatment helps Xena live comfortably now, but it’s sad to know her life may be shorter than it could have been.

“She's just had a relapse and so we've had to have her into the vet. But we've been to the hospital twice this week because of our setback. And then there's also the expense. It's not cheap, when you're running to the vet.”

Some animals can’t be saved. The treatment expense can be crushing and force some families to give up on the pet they love so much.

“Between Tucson and Phoenix, a veterinarian will see at least one new case of valley fever a week.” says Doctor Lisa Shubitz, a veterinarian with University of Arizona’s Valley Fever Center for Excellence, which researches Valley Fever in people and pets. She says in Arizona the cost for diagnosing and treating pets for Valley Fever is at least 60 million dollars.

“And that's not counting the emotional costs, and the losses, you know of dogs that die regardless of what we're able to do for treatment.”

But Doctor Shubitz is working on a way to protect pets---a vaccine showing strong potential to give pets immunity from the Valley Fever fungus. She says it may be ready for dogs sometime next year and could set the stage to a vaccine to protect people from Valley Fever too.

“We think that showing safety and success with this vaccine in dogs will also help create a great deal of optimism and a, you know, path forward towards this in humans if we can show that, well this works and it isn't making dogs sick. And, you know, we think we can make this work for humans as well.”

Doctor Shubitz says dog owners are so interested in a Valley Fever vaccine that they’ve donated to help pay for development. The bad news for Xena is the vaccine will probably not help dogs that already have Valley Fever. But Margaret Hardy says she’d be eager to vaccinate any pet she has.

If you would like to involve your dog in Valley Fever research at the University of Arizona Valley Fever Center for Excellence you can contact Dr. Shubitz at lfshubit@arizona.edu and Dr. Butkiewicz at butkiew@arizona.edu.