After an isolated tribe in the Amazon rain forest made peaceful contact with Brazilian government scientists last month, several of their members are now suffering from influenza.
Health officials are trying to protect other members of the Ashaninka tribe from the flu virus before a deadly epidemic wipes them out.
Local media report that the tribe was fleeing violent attackers in Peru when they met scientists. Members of the tribe initiated contact, reaching out to the Brazilian state of Acre. They spent up to three weeks with outsiders.
Seven members of the tribe are now being treated for the flu, according to FUNAI, the national Indian foundation in Brazil.
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FUNIA’s Carlos Travassos told the Washington Post that the tribesmen were “curious and frightened” and “thought they could die.”
“We can only hope that [the FUNAI team members] were able to give out treatment before the sickness was spread to the rest of the tribe in the forest,” Chris Fagan, executive director at the Upper Amazon Conservancy in Wyoming, told Science Magazine. “Only time will tell if they reacted quickly enough to divert a catastrophic epidemic.”
Disease transmission is still the primary concern, and FUNAI says it may not have sufficient resources to fight an epidemic.
“There does not seem to be a health team in situ right now,” said Fiona Watson, research director for Survival International. “FUNAI says it will send in a team but only next month.”
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Image credit: Ministério da Cultura, Acre