TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - More people are getting sick from Valley Fever in Arizona, just was University of Arizona doctors are making progress in their fight against the disease.
The Arizona Department of Health Services has released its latest numbers. In November 2017, they reported nearly 1,000 cases of Valley Fever, compare that to November 2016, when the state had roughly 600 cases.
While the state is currently seeing a spike, and actually have been for the last few months, doctors at the U of A and National Institutes of Health are making progress in their studies learning more about the airborne fungus. Some of that progress is thanks to a Marana man.
For most people with Valley Fever, it is not a big deal. However, for others like Jeff Winebrenner of Marana, they fall deathly ill.
"I got horribly sick," he said. "I had the best doctors and they couldn't get me stabilized."
Winebrenner has a rare form of Valley Fever. It's so rare he says of all of the people who get the disease fewer than one percent gets what he has.
"This went from my lungs to my brain," he said.
Tucson doctors diagnosed Winebrenner with Valley Fever Meningitis.
Dr. Tirdad Zangeneh said his treatment has been complicated. Many medications simply didn't work. So, he became a case study at the National Institutes of Health.
"When he came back and I saw him a year later he had significantly improved," said Dr. Zangeneh.
"They saved my life," said Winebrenner. "I mean that's basically where we were at."
Doctors at the N.I.H. are discovering new drug combinations that are helping when nothing else works.
"I can tell you they tried just about everything," said Winebrenner.
Discovering new therapies or drug combinations won't just help Winebrenner, but many others who will be diagnosed. And, the U of A has its sights set on the future. It's conducting a number of studies on Valley Fever including one that looks at the immune system and why people all react so differently to the disease.
"That's the strangest thing about all of this," said Winebrenner. "They said my immune system is awesome."
For Winebrenner this diagnosis continues to affect him.
"I will have this my entire life," he said.
However, he's hopeful by being a part of these studies he will help give doctors the clues they need to find a vaccine or possibly a cure.
"I hope there's a cure. I think that will be life changing," he said.
As for the latest on those studies, the very first batch of blood samples from about half a dozen people just arrived at UCLA for sequencing. That should be complete by the end of the month and then doctors at the U of A will start to analyze the data.