Claire Panosian Dunavan,
MD, FIDSA, DTM&H (London)
UCLA School of Medicine
Division of Infectious Diseases
10833 Le Conte Ave, CHS 37-121
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1688

Division office: 310-825-7225
Voicemail: 310-794-6053
Facsimile: 310-825-3632

A Task In The Yard Turns Lethal

Discover, August 2007

My husband and I live in a cottage in the foothills of Los Angeles, where nature feels very close. Beyond our front door, an ancient flowering vine overhangs a brick porch. Tangled up within the vine is a whole world in miniature: abandoned birds’ nests, dangling spiderwebs, powdery organic deposits. For years, we marveled at the vine’s ecosphere—but we never grasped its intense biological power until one spring morning I will never forget.

“I’m going outside,” my husband said. “I feel like pruning.”

After finding his clippers, Patrick started to yank and trim the tangled greenery. Then I heard a loud, strangled cough. “Yech!” he exclaimed, violently stomping and shaking himself. “I feel like I just inhaled toxic waste—my lungs are on fire!”

Because Patrick has asthma, sudden fits of wheezing and shortness of breath are nothing new to him. This was different. Some dusty emanation from the vine had triggered a fierce pain from his trachea to the deepest culs-de-sac of his lungs. An hour after his noxious gulp of air, though, he felt better. I figured the worst was over.

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Claire Panosian Dunavan, MD, DTM&H (London), 2008 President of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, received her education at Stanford University, Northwestern Medical School, Tufts-New England Medical Center, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. First as Chief of Infectious Diseases at LA County-Olive View Medical Center, then as Director of Travel and Tropical Medicine at UCLA, she has been a UCLA professor, clinician, and teacher since 1984. She has also worked overseas in Haiti, Taiwan, the Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Albania, Armenia, and Tanzania, among other countries.

Dunavan’s second career as a print and broadcast journalist includes 6 years as a medical editor, reporter, and co-anchor for Lifetime Television. In 1997, her interview with a dying physician won an international “Freddie” Award. In 2000, with her husband Patrick Dunavan—an 8-time Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker —she produced a television program on hepatitis B which has reached 300 million international viewers. In recent years, she has written regularly for national newspapers and magazines. She currently writes a weekly column called “The Infection Files” which runs in California newspapers. Her journalism spans issues in infectious diseases and public health affecting everyone on the planet to global health policy and economics.

© 2010 Claire Panosian Dunavan