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Measles outbreak threatens to decimate isolated Amazonian tribe in Venezuela and Brazil

Published on 25/10/18 at 10:11am
Image Credit: Cmacauley

An outbreak of measles threatens to decimate an isolated tribe in the Amazon, according to the non-profit organisation Survival International.

The lethal measles epidemic threatens to kill hundreds of the Yanomami, a group of approximately 35,000 indigenous people who live in the rainforest in Venezuela and Brazil, as the disease spreads through Yanomami villages on both sides of the border in the Amazon.

The infectious disease, which was likely introduced by gold miners who work illegally on Yanomami land, may be particularly deadly due to the tribe’s lack of immunity to common diseases such as measles and the flu.

“Any remote indigenous people with little contact with mainstream society have low resistance to diseases that are introduced from outsiders,” said Sarah Shenker, a senior researcher at Survival International.

“That's why this epidemic of measles that has broken out on the Venezuela-Brazil border in recent months is particularly worrying for the Yanomami and could be catastrophic. It could wipe out whole communities.”

The outbreak is particularly concerning due to the fact that previous outbreaks of measles have devastated Yanomami communities. Notably the disease killed 9% of those infected during an outbreak in the 1960’s.

The recent outbreak has however come as vaccine coverage has declined across the globe. While Brazil was declared free of measles in 2016, the deadly disease has reappeared in recent years.

Notably there were more than 995 reported cases of measles in Brazil in 2018 alone, as vaccine coverage has fallen to 82% compared to rates of close to 100% in 2002.

Louis Goss

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