Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy made another move in his crusade against valley fever Wednesday, announcing the new “Congressional Valley Fever Task Force.”
The panel is comprised of 11 Republicans and three Democrats from California, Arizona and Texas. McCarthy said the group grew out of meetings he’s had throughout the year with Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., who will co-chair the task force.
“The first thing is to bring awareness to (valley fever). Greater awareness will bring better treatment” and help reach the ultimate goal of a vaccine, McCarthy said by phone Tuesday.
Valley fever, an illness caused by a fungus endemic in parts of the Southwest, has been known as an “orphan disease” that receives little attention or research funding. But the disease has stepped into the spotlight this year for a variety of reasons, experts said, and politicians are paying attention.
McCarthy has been holding court with local and national experts, including leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. The Bakersfield representative is also spearheading a valley fever symposium to be held early this fall.
Valley fever experts in California and Arizona were optimistic Wednesday as they considered what the task force might accomplish.
Kirt Emery, health assessment and epidemiology program manager for the Kern County Public Health Services Department, said he thinks McCarthy is “doing an amazing job” tackling valley fever.
“(The task force) starts to bring in all of the power and all of the resources because these guys can make things happen,” Emery said.
Dr. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona, said the new group could increase collaboration among the representatives’ constituencies.
He was also encouraged that the task force bridges the political divide.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, if you inhale one of these (fungal) spores, it really is a problem for people of all political persuasions,” Galgiani said.
The other task force members are Rep. Buck McKeon, R–Calif., Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., Rep. Ken Calvert, R–Calif., Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz.
The Reporting on Health Collaborative involves The Bakersfield Californian, the Merced Sun-Star, Radio Bilingue in Fresno, The Record in Stockton, Valley Public Radio in Fresno and Bakersfield, Vida en el Valle in Fresno, the Voice of OC in Santa Ana and ReportingonHealth.org. It's an initiative of The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.