Our Homeland Security Letter
This is our July 30, 2004 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. If you agree with our recommendations and would like to help us, please send your own letter by using information from our letters page. By working together we can all make a difference.
Secretary Tom Ridge
RE: Coccidioides immitis, a regulated agent of bioterrorism and the need for public warnings and funding for the vaccine and cure from Project BioShield.
Dear Secretary Ridge:
C. immitis is an urgent matter of importance to homeland security. It is a naturally occurring fungal biohazard that is endemic to the desert Southwest. I am also confident that you are aware it is listed as a Select Agent in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. C. immitis causes national and international health problems. It is considered the most virulent of all fungal pathogens.
The Valley Fever Center for Excellence has even questioned in their annual report of 2004 whether the rise of coccidioidomycosis (aka cocci or Valley Fever) cases in Arizona might have been or continue to be caused by biological terrorism. This could easily occur and few would suspect it; under 2% of the total infections may be accurately diagnosed, few doctors look for it in routine testing, and few doctors understand the true dangers of this disease. People inhale C. immitis every day just by being in the endemic regions of America’s Southwest and are unaware of the lifelong health risks they face from this biohazard.
We at valleyfeversurvivor.com have been researching this disease extensively for nearly two years. We are disturbed that thousands of American military men and women have already been infected and the fact that 300,000 personnel are at risk that presently serve in the endemic regions of the Southwest. This should be an obvious concern for Homeland Security. This fungus is also well documented as race specific and had been stockpiled by the CIA as a biological weapon. As an indication of its danger, its Biosafety Level III rating for laboratory handling is only one step below Ebola. What else is the Department of Homeland Security for if not to prevent American soldiers and civilians alike from being exposed to biological weapons, both naturally occurring and man made?
The C. immitis spore is approximately the same size as an anthrax spore. If C. immitis went through the ventilation systems of the Senate office buildings they would certainly be shut down as they were during the anthrax attack. Sadly, there is no drug to give people exposed to C. immitis to prevent a Valley Fever infection, as there is with anthrax. The nation needs to be warned about the C. immits security threat and funding is needed for the vaccine and a cure.
Since the President signed Project BioShield into law on July 21, 2004 and since C. immitis is regulated as an agent of bioterrorism, the estimated $40 million for the cure and $40 million for the vaccine should be a serious consideration in Project BioShield's $5.6 billion budget. $80 million does not seem like too much to ask (1.4% of Project BioShield's funds) for the vaccine and cure to a disease that infects approximately 200,000 Americans annually based on the year 2000 population census of the endemic area. Please note cocci costs Americans an estimated $120 million annually for treatment. This does not include lost wages and lost employment. If funding under Project BioShield can not be made available for cocci, funding should be sought in another program.
Contrary to frequently repeated but outdated information, far more healthy people are infected and sickened by this disease than those who are immunocompromised. This is important because the entire community in an endemic area is at risk. Dr. Egeberg noted how devastating an outbreak in Los Angeles could be in The Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Coccidioididomycosis in 1984:
“...suppose the ground was just right [for the distribution of C. immitis] and that billions of upon billions of arthrospores, arthroconidia, were ripe and ready to take to the air in the Southern San Joaquin Valley and suppose a similar, bizarre, strong 3-day windstorm occurred, but instead of heading north [as in a previous epidemic, it] blew south over the Tehachapis into the nearby Los Angeles basin. If that should happen I daresay in 3 or 4 weeks they would be calling it a national emergency and would probably be sending in the National Guard.”
According to Dr Egeberg, the following would have occurred during this scenario, based on Los Angeles’ population of eight million in 1984:
1) 2,000,000 people would have been infected.
2) 400,000 or 500,000 would have had definite symptoms.
3) 100,000 would have experienced severe symptoms of primary disease.
4) 20,000 of those would have dissemination of the disease.
5) “And one could guess that at least several thousand would die.”
6) “...it would approach a major earthquake as a catastrophe.”
7) The expenses of this disaster could have been as high as $1 billion in 1984. However, due to population increases, medical cost increases, and inflation, expenses would be significantly higher if the tragedy occurred today.Even without such a disaster, the harm to public safety is already vast. By contrast, less than 200 Americans have contracted West Nile Virus this year and there are even fewer SARS sufferers. Everyone has heard of these two diseases. However, from January to June this year there have been over 1650 reported cases of Valley Fever in Arizona alone.
For the month of June 2004, Arizona had 309 reported cases of Valley Fever. That is an increase of 106% from June 2003. These cases were reported prior to the dust storms that have recently plagued Arizona, so an increase in cases could be expected for the next several months.
The public is warned about the West Nile Virus as well as the risks of travel to areas with SARS but there are no warnings given about cocci. By comparison, the number of cocci cases is considerably higher. In fact, the Valley Fever Center for Excellence has referred to the disease as Arizona’s “local secret.”
To date, the CDC has disregarded our plea to warn the public. This creates a paradox because people must be aware of the existence of C. immitis before they can find out how to protect their loved ones from it. In a letter to the CDC we suggested renaming Valley Fever to SARFI for “Severe Acute Respiratory Fungal Infection” as a way to communicate the seriousness of this disease to the public.
Transmission of Valley Fever by fomites has frequently occurred from packages, vehicles, agricultural goods, and other items. The Department of Transportation was aware of the risk of cocci in airplane cabins in 1989, but the significance of this finding was buried by their studies on airline tobacco. We need at least one government agency to secure our country against this biohazard. The Department of Homeland Security should be the organization to take the initiative.
The current vaccine project is only designed to mitigate dissemination of cocci in the body. Funding is needed for a vaccine to stop C. immitis from causing Valley Fever altogether. A cure is needed for the millions of people who are already infected with this disease, and this would require funding into Nikkomycin Z research and other drugs. Public warnings about the Valley Fever health risk are urgently needed for travelers, students, retirees, and even the residents of the Southwest’s endemic regions.
Please read our enclosed packet of material and let us know if valleyfeversurvivor.com can assist you in any way. We believe our research and expertise could be very beneficial to homeland security. I lost my health and nearly lost my life to Valley Fever. I do not want another person to contract this incurable, debilitating, and sometimes deadly disease. If terrorists used C. immitis for an attack, the theoretical Los Angeles scenario could occur in any American city. Unfortunately there are many other ways C. immitis could be used against our citizens. In an age of terrorism, complacency is not an option.
I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.
Sharon Filip, Founder
In addition, please read our Facts, FAQs, Symptoms, Map, and Misconceptions pages, and our 2003 letter to the Governor of Arizona located at our web site www.valleyfeversurvivor.com.
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