Published Date: 2009-11-05 15:00:03
Subject: PRO/AH/EDR> Influenza pandemic (H1N1) 2009 (90): Venezuela, Yanomami
Archive Number: 20091105.3820
INFLUENZA PANDEMIC (H1N1) 2009 (90): VENEZUELA, YANOMAMI
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: Wed 4 Nov 2009
Source: The New York Times/International Herald Tribune, Associated Press
(AP) report [edited]
Swine flu reaches Yanomami Indians in the Amazon
Swine flu [influenza pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus infection] has appeared
among Venezuela's Yanomami Indians, one of the largest isolated indigenous
groups in the Amazon, and a doctor said on Wednesday [4 Nov 2009] that the
virus is suspected in 7 deaths, including 6 infants. The deaths happened in
forest villages near Venezuela's border with Brazil over the past 2 1/2
weeks, said Raidan Bernade, a Venezuelan doctor in a team sent to contain
the outbreak and treat the ill. Bernade told The Associated Press (AP) that
doctors confirmed one of those who died had swine flu -- a 35 year old
Yanomami woman who doctors believe was pregnant.
Six babies, the oldest of whom was about 1 year old, died from similar
symptoms, though samples weren't taken in time to confirm it was swine flu,
Bernade said by phone from La Esmeralda, a riverside town at the edge of
the vast rain forest territory where the Yanomami live. He said the victims
had fever and coughing at first, and suffered complications from pneumonia.
The deaths were reported on Wednesday [4 Nov 2009] by the London-based
indigenous rights group Survival International, which warned that if not
properly contained the virus could spread and cause more deaths among
people who are particularly susceptible to disease due to their limited
contact with the outside world.
Yamilet Mirabal, the government's deputy minister of indigenous affairs for
the region, told the AP she was informed of 6 Yanomami deaths suspected of
being due to swine flu. She said the outbreak was detected about 3 weeks
ago and health officials have taken precautions since to prevent the
illness from spreading.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez acknowledged Tuesday night [3 Nov 2009]
that the virus reached some indigenous settlements, though he didn't
mention the Yanomami or give details. "Swine flu hasn't gone away... It was
detected in an indigenous community," Chavez said in a televised speech.
"It's under control now."
Mirabal said suspected swine flu cases appeared in 3 Yanomami villages --
Mavaca, Platanal, and Hatakoa -- and a Cuban-trained team of Venezuelan
doctors known as Battalion 51 was sent to the area to treat the ill and
track possible cases. Among the ill, 2 swine flu cases have been confirmed,
but those people have been treated and recovered, Bernade said.
Doctors identified some 2000 [not 3000 as reported initially] people with
various respiratory illnesses in the zone in recent weeks and took samples
from those with serious cases, Bernade said. He said about 110 sick people
are being evaluated to see if they might have swine flu, though doctors
believe most have a seasonal flu that appears regularly in the area. He
said sick people are isolated in homes, and their numbers have been
declining. "Everything is under control," Bernade said.
There are an estimated 28 000 or more Yanomami living in communities on
both sides of the Venezuela-Brazil border. They have maintained their
language as well as traditions including face paint and wooden facial
ornaments piercing their noses, cheeks, and lips. The Yanomami often suffer
from malaria and also have seen deaths in the past from outbreaks of
illnesses such as measles, yellow fever, and hepatitis. In many cases, they
have become sick after contact with outsiders.
It is unclear how swine flu reached the Yanomami. One possibility is that
someone with the virus attended an athletic event in one of the villages
last month [October 2009], Mirabal said. Indigenous people came from all
around for the sporting event, which is said to have included soccer -- a
popular sport among the Yanomami. Bernade said the 1st death happened
during that multi-day event. He said another possibility is that someone
with the virus came with visiting government officials several days
earlier. Last month, Venezuela confirmed there have been 90 deaths
nationwide from swine flu, and 1910 cases of the virus [infection].
Survival International, which supports the rights of tribal peoples
internationally, has helped campaign for Yanomami land rights in the past.
Fiona Watson, its research and field director, said she is unaware of any
similar swine flu outbreaks in Amazon indigenous communities. She called
for urgent action to keep the virus from spreading. "Survival
International's real fear is that this is going to spread rapidly ...
because the Yanomami are a relatively isolated people," said Watson, who
has visited Yanomami villages previously. "If it gets into these remote
communities, by the time people find out it's likely to be too late."
[byline: Rachel Jones, Jorge Rueda)
ProMED-mail rapporteur Mary Marshall
[The Yanomami, also called Yanomamo and Yanomama, are deep jungle Indians
living in the Amazon basin in both Venezuela and Brazil. The Yanomami are
believed to be the most primitive, culturally intact people in existence in
the world. They are literally a stone age tribe. Their territory covers an
area of approximately 192 000 sq km [74 132 sq mi], located on both sides
of the border between Brazil and Venezuela, in the Orinoco-Amazon
interfluvial region (affluents of the right shore of the Rio Branco and
left shore of the Rio Negro). They make up a culturo-linguistic group
composed of at least 4 adjacent subgroups who speak languages of the same
family (Yanomae, Yanomami, Sanima, and Ninam). The total population of the
Yanomami in Brazil and Venezuela is today estimated to be around 26 000 people.
A detailed account of the origin and life style of these people is
available at <http://indian-cultures.com/Cultures/yanomamo.html>. This
source states that 62 per cent of Yanomami have tested positive for new
strains of malaria introduced by garimpeiros (gold miners) who have brought
in every conceivable disease known to modern man, from the common cold
right up to and including AIDS. It is likely that the Yanomami have
sufficient contacts with the outside world to be vulnerable to the spread
of new infections such as pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza virus infection.
Maps showing the location of the territory of the Yanomami can be accessed
at <http://indian-cultures.com/Maps/Yanomamo%20map.html>. The
HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of the region is available at
<http://healthmap.org/r/00_2>. - Mod.CP]