Last month, an Amazonian tribe without prior exposure to the modern world made voluntary and peaceful contact with Brazilian scientists. Soon afterward though, it was clear members of the tribe suffered from the flu.
Officials are now trying to take action and protect members of the Ashaninka tribe and other isolated tribes from a virus that could be deadly.
According to Science Magazine, members of the tribe contacted government scientists in the Brazilian state of Acre and spent up to three weeks with them. The group Survival International reported that it is thought the tribe members were fleeing violent attacks in Peru when they found the scientists.
FUNAI, the national Indian foundation in Brazil, in its announcement said seven members were treated for influenza and observed for days before returning home. Still, groups find it “extremely worrying” that these members are returning to areas where unvaccinated people live, fearing an infectious spread could wipe out the whole tribes.
Carlos Travassos with FUNAI, who was among those who helped make sure these tribe members received treatment, told the Washington Post they 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.”
In addition to this flu incident alarming groups that want to protect the few uncontacted tribes left in these areas, some fear that the violent conflicts occurring near them will bring harm to them as well.
“This news proves that my uncontacted relatives are threatened by violence and infectious diseases. We already know what can happen if the authorities don’t take action to protect them, they will simply disappear,” Nixiwaka Yawanawá, an Indian from Acre state, told Survival International. “They need time and space to decide when they want to make contact and their choices must be respected.”
As a result, the group launched a petition calling on both the Peruvian and Brazillian governments to step in and make sure enough is being done to protect tribes like this.