FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — California doctors have found a way to diagnose the fungal disease Valley fever through DNA testing, allowing treatment of patients to begin almost immediately, officials said Monday.
Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno is performing the DNA test that can identify the disease in as few as five hours, rather than waiting more than two weeks for the results of blood tests, officials said.
There's still no cure for Valley fever, which can be deadly, but doctors said with early detection they can keep symptoms in check.
"Anything that helps diagnose it quicker is always a plus," said Dr. Dominic T. Dizon, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who is based in Fresno.
Valley fever is prevalent in the Central Valley and Arizona. Symptoms include fever, chest pain, coughing and other symptoms. In California, over 4,000 cases were reported in 2012 with more than two-thirds found in Merced and Kern counties.
Doctors still use the blood tests to confirm the results of the new approach, but the DNA testing is proving to be accurate, the Fresno Bee has reported.
The testing takes advantage of technology the hospital obtained last year to detect infectious bacteria.
Dizon and Marilyn Mitchell, who supervises the hospital lab, decided to try using the machine to diagnose Valley fever. In the past six months, 255 samples were tested with success, Dizon said.
The method won't be sold to other labs and doesn't require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Dizon, noting that he didn't launch the research with the intent to market it.
The research will soon be published and any lab can purchase the machine to help treat patients, he said.
Eight years ago, the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., began using a similar test to diagnose patients with a different strain of Valley fever. Doctors still use back-up testing to confirm immediate findings.
Doctors in Fresno said they also will compare the DNA results with blood tests, but they are pleased they can quickly begin prescribing appropriate drugs for patients.
"Everybody benefits from this technology," he said. "We wanted to elevate health care for the whole valley."