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

Travel Health Is More Than Vaccines

Los Angeles Times, February 2003

Last year I visited Tanzania, an African country where malaria is rampant. In parts of the country, villagers receive 300 infective mosquito bites per year — meaning, on average, they’re exposed to malaria almost nightly. Did I smear insect repellent all over my body and down malaria pills during my stay? You bet. Without these measures, the malaria stakes in Africa are high. Even with them, there are no guarantees. And there is no vaccine.

A mosquito-borne scourge rarer than malaria is yellow fever. Although taking malaria precautions is a good idea, it’s voluntary; getting a yellow fever shot isn’t. Many African countries — mostly in the continent’s sub-Saharan midsection — require proof of vaccination before you can apply for a visa.

Years ago in my travel medicine practice, I saw safari-goers who wanted yellow fever shots and nothing else because a consular official or travel agent had told them that was the only official requirement. When I offered them malaria pills and optional vaccines (hepatitis A or typhoid, for example), they declined. I held my breath and prayed.

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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