Valley fever researchers have developed a vaccine for dogs

Each year, fungal disease valley fever infects tens of thousands of people in the American Southwest. Studies suggest infection rates could be even higher in dogs, and researchers in Arizona are now announcing progress on a canine valley fever vaccine.

Valley fever is caused by a fungus that grows in arid soils. Fungal spores can spread through the air due to wind, construction, or other activities that disturb the soil, and inhaling the spores can lead to an infection of the lungs which can spread throughout the body if it is is not treated quickly. About half of those who develop an infection get over it without ever knowing they had it, but symptomatic cases can look like anything from mild flu to pneumonia to lung cancer. In rare cases, the disease can be fatal or spread to other parts of the body and require lifelong treatment.

Researchers estimate that the financial burden of the disease exceeds $ 700 million annually in California and $ 736 million in Arizona, between direct and indirect costs, including medical care, lost work time, and employee benefits. disability. In 2019, more than 19,300 cases of valley fever were reported in those two states alone, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the disease kills 200 Americans each year.

The disease burden can be significantly higher in dogs, suggests Dr. John Galgiani, professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson and director of the university’s Valley Fever Center for Excellence. “It is, in our opinion, about three times more serious for dogs than for humans,” he said. “If you talk to one of the vets in areas where valley fever is common, they will tell you a lot of stories about really bad infections in dogs and other pets.”

Now, Galgiani’s team has developed a vaccine against canine valley fever. In a peer-reviewed scientific study published online last month, he and his coauthors write that all dogs that received the vaccine in clinical trials were protected against significant disease. “If you vaccinate a dog and then infect it with very virulent strains of this fungus, it is completely protected,” he said. “These are very exciting results.”

The clinical trials involved 30 dogs, divided into groups that received two doses of the vaccine 28 days apart, one dose or a placebo, before being exposed to a virulent strain of the fungus. According to a scoring system based on symptoms and analyzes of blood and tissue samples, unvaccinated dogs had severe illness on average, while those given two doses had no indicators that would have required a visit to a hospital. veterinary clinic.

The development of a vaccine was supported by the pharmaceutical company Anivive Life Sciences. With their interest and with eventual approval from the US Department of Agriculture, which regulates vaccines in non-humans, Galgiani is optimistic the vaccine could be on the market as early as 2023.

As exciting as a canine vaccine is, however, it’s also a stepping stone to a vaccine hitting closer to home. “This is where we are heading now, to develop this vaccine to send to the FDA for clinical trials in humans,” said Galgiani.

He hopes having a canine vaccine on hand can help secure the more than $ 100 million needed to conduct human clinical trials, an effort that got off to a promising start at the turn of the century but is now coming to fruition. ‘was shut down almost a decade ago due to a lack of funding. .

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