Sunday, August 2, 2015

Getting all the shots

It seems there is no immunization against bubonic plague (the "Black Death" that wiped out one third of the human population of Europe during the Middle Ages). I greet this news with some relief, for I've had about as many shots as my arms will hold this afternoon. I've had injections for meningitis, typhoid, and tetanus today; for hepatitis A, yellow fever, and rabies on an earlier visit.

Getting all the shots

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Robert Peck is currently in Mongolia, largely out of contact with the outside world. He filed several blog  entries before leaving Philadelphia and early in his trek, including this one:

It seems there is no immunization against bubonic plague (the "Black Death" that wiped out one third of the human population of Europe during the Middle Ages). I greet this news with some relief, for I've had about as many shots as my arms will hold this afternoon. I've had injections for meningitis, typhoid, and tetanus today; for hepatitis A, yellow fever, and rabies on an earlier visit.

It's not that there isn't bubonic plague in Mongolia, it's just that there is nothing I can do to prevent catching it except to "stay away from the marmots and the fleas that infest them." Dr. Jennifer Aldrich proffered this good advice at Main Line Health's clinic for travel medicine and infectious diseases as she stamped the newest entries in my yellow inoculation book. "Keep this with your passport," she urged. Easier said than done. I lost my last yellow book at some border crossing in Botswana. Who knows how long I can hold on to this one.

We decided to forego the shots that might protect me from Hepatitis B, not because I shouldn't have them, but because there isn't sufficient time to administer the full course of three before my departure. "What do I do without them?" I asked. "Try to avoid dirty needles and the transfer of blood," Aldrich advised. "Don't hang out with prostitutes, avoid accidents, and stay away from the Mongolian heath system." Sounds like a plan.

Except for the shots, I quite like going to Lankenau's travel clinic. There isn't much of a wait, the doctors and nurses are friendly, and the reading matter is way better than in most doctors' offices. If the Conde Nast Travelers in their waiting room tell you all the reasons you might want to travel, the other reading matter they dispense at the clinic paints a different picture. Their "Advice to Travelers" booklet, loaded with horror stories of the diseases you are likely to contract, offers lots of reasons you might rather stay home.

In my case, many of their suggestions simply don't square with the realities of Mongolia. For starters, they recommend swimming only in clean, chlorinated swimming pools while traveling (dream on!). Are there any swimming pools in Mongolia? They also insist that I must not even think about consuming any of the raw milk products that will make up the bulk of my diet for the next two months. Maybe because the unpasteurized milk, cheese, and yogurt I'll be eating will come from horses, yaks, sheep and goats, the hazards won't be as great as from the dairy cows they worry about. I wonder where camel milk fits on their spectrum of forbidden foods, or drinking from communal cups and bowls. I don't ask.

An hour and $330 later, I leave the clinic feeling sore, but better prepared for whatever I might face on the steppes of Central Asia in the weeks and months ahead. Now, if I can just remember to avoid dirty needles, prostitutes, and those flea-infested marmots …

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About this blog
The age of exploration is not dead. Over the next six weeks, Robert Peck and colleagues from the Academy of Natural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania will be traveling in Mongolia, reconnecting with herdsmen Peck met 17 years ago and checking for evidence of climate change. Peck will chronicle his travels in the land once ruled by Genghis Khan on a blog at www.philly.com/treks


Robert McCracken Peck, senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Peck is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He has been honored by the Academy, the Explorers Club, and other organizations for his contributions to exploration and the interpretation of natural history. In 2007, the U.S. Department of State and the White House chose him to represent the United States at Mongolia’s 800th birthday celebration. Peck is the author of Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America (1990), Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador (1987), and other books and papers.

Clyde Goulden, Director of the Asia Center of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Goulden’s research in Asia began in 1994 when he and Academy colleagues were invited to initiate studies on a large lake in northern Mongolia, Lake Hovsgol. His work at the lake has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Global Environment Facility through the World Bank. He is associated with a research program to study the impacts of climate change on the lake’s watershed and the nomadic herders of Mongolia.

Tuya Goulden, researcher and international travel liaison
Tuya Goulden moved to the United States in 2006 from Mongolia and is a citizen of the U.S. In addition to college degrees from Mongolian universities, she has a master’s degree in tourism management from George Washington University. Goulden has been active in organizing expeditions in Mongolia for scientists in from the Academy and other universities. She is a research assistant for the Mongolian NSF-PIRE project on climate change impacts and serves as the translator for interviews with Mongolian nomadic herders.

Dakin Henderson, videographer
Henderson, a Boston filmmaker, has produced fiction and non-fiction short films, music videos and science-education documentaries. His films have won awards at Colorado College, the Shoot Out Boulder competition and the Ecological Society of America EcoFilm Festival. He currently works with the award-winning production team, Vital Pictures. Visit his website at www.shaxentertainment.com.

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