News release

News Release Archive

Office of External Affairs

Mission magazine

Vital Signs

University page

Health Science Center receives CDC approval to study desert fever

San Antonio (Sept. 24, 2003) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has granted The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio select biological agent/toxin approval to study Coccidioides immitis, the fungus that causes desert fever. The Health Science Center may be the first U.S. institution to receive this approval for desert fever since the federal government enacted tighter security measures this year as part of homeland defense initiatives.

Select biological agent/toxin approval is required for research of high-level, specialized pathogens such as C. immitis. "This indicates that our researchers, facilities and safety procedures are very highly regarded by the CDC. It also demonstrates the Health Science Center's commitment to curing human disease," said Michael Charlton, Ph.D., director of environmental health and safety at the Health Science Center.

Desert fever is the illness that struck former San Antonio Spurs guard Johnny Moore in the 1980s. C. immitis comes from a mold found in deserts from California to Texas, in northern Mexico and a few areas of Central and South America.1 Inhalation of dust containing the mold results in the infection, which is not spread person to person. Most cases are considered minor and cause only flulike symptoms, but severe infections can cause life-threatening complications such as lung disease and meningitis.2

The research is conducted in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The Health Science Center maintained approval to study desert fever under older CDC regulations along with a handful of other top health research institutions. The Health Science Center will pursue two other select agent approvals in the next few months.

"Our scientific team doing research on this pathogen is just one of several that are expanding our research efforts at the Health Science Center in other select agent pathogens that can potentially be used as bioterrorism weapons," said Harold L. Timboe, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Biomedical Research Center at the Health Science Center. The result will be basic biological understandings that can be translated into new clinical and diagnostic products to prevent or treat the diseases studied, he said.

The CDC's new regulations took effect March 7. Institutions with existing approval status were required to be in full compliance with the new standards by November.

1Kirkland TN and Fierer J. 1996. Coccidioidomycosis: A Reemerging Infectious Disease. Emerging Infectious Diseases, July-Sept. 1996. (


Contact: Will Sansom