Valley Fever Season Hits As Drug Price Rises

By Jude Joffe-Block
December 26, 2013
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Spores of the fungus Coccidioides immitis that causes Valley Fever.

PHOENIX – Valley Fever is caused by a fungus that is found in the soil in the Southwest. Symptoms can be flu-like, and some cases progress to chronic pneumonia.

John Galgiani, a professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and director of the Valley Fever Center in Phoenix, said the anti-fungal generic drug fluconazole is the most commonly used treatment for the disease.

"Very recently the price has really jumped," Galgiani said.

Prices vary by pharmacy depending on their drug delivery contracts, Galgiani said.

At some pharmacies the price has tripled, and there are even reports of 10-fold increases. 

Most patients with health insurance will not notice the price change, but the uninsured are impacted. So are some pet owners, because the drug is also commonly used to treat dogs who contract the disease.

Furthermore, fluconazole is prescribed long-term to treat Valley Fever, meaning price influxes can add up.

"The starting course of treatment would be three to six months," Galgiani said. "Some people take it for life."

A month worth of pills can cost more than $200 now in some pharmacies, but at the same time, a lot still unknown about how to best treat the disease.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Ben Park is an expert in fungal diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That is particularly true for patients who have just come down with it and are in the early stages of pneumonia caused by the disease, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention medical officer Ben Park.

"Practices vary, some doctors will treat all patients with Valley Fever and some don't treat any because the guidelines state that, rightfully so, that we don't know if treatment is effective," Park said. "And you know, treatments can have side effects."

The CDC and the National Institutes of Health have announced they will do a clinical trial to test whether treatment is beneficial at those early stages.

Flucanazole will likely be included in the clinical trial, though plans are not yet final. No start date for the trial has been disclosed yet.