The Coronavirus Has Reached the Indigenous Tribes of the Amazon

Health officials in Brazil who are already overwhelmed with the spread of the coronavirus across the country sounded the alarm over another potential crisis. The South American country has already seen at least 22,000 infections thus far, leading to 1250+ deaths. But things could get even worse, as it is now being reported that virus has now reached the remote corners of the Amazon jungle, where it has already claimed at least two lives.

According to a story posted by National Geographic over the weekend, health workers in Brazil’s northern state of Roraima have reported that a young man from the Yanomami tribe has passed away from the disease. He is the second individual from within those tribes who has known to have died from the coronavirus and seven confirmed infections thus far. As if that news wasn’t bad enough, those infections are spread across three different states within the Amazon, which means they don’t share the same origin. In fact, four of the infections come from a doctor who returned to the Amazon after attending a medical conference, but failed to self-quarantine before exposing his colleagues and the locals. Now, he may have inadvertently brought COVID-19 to the Kokama tribe, where the potential for widespread health issues could create a dire situation.

At the moment, only those who have been exposed to the coronavirus have built up any antibodies in their body to fight the infection. That isn’t the case in the Amazon, but pretty much the entire world. Because of this, most countries are under travel restrictions and quarantines in an effort to control the spread of the disease. But at least most other places in the world have some kind of medical facilities to attempt to deal with the situation should someone become ill. In the Amazon, those facilities are few and far between and usually located hundreds of miles from any of the indigenous tribes. That means, many could fall ill or even die without any resources to aid them.

It isn’t clear exactly where the young man in Roraima contracted COVID-19, although officials say that he moved around a lot, often passing through regions where illegal mining is prevalent. It is possible that he was exposed to the virus through an interaction with one of the miners, later becoming infected himself. Upon returning to his village, he may have infected others there too, or potentially other villages while he was away. The result is that would could see a scaled-down version of the global pandemic play out in the Amazon, without proper healthcare to help ease the challenges.

This story is a stark reminder of how easily COVID-19 is transmitted and shared. A place that is as remote as these villages in the Amazon seem like they would be safe from the disease, but it really hasn’t taken very long at all for it to arrive on the scene. With a vaccine probably still months away, the consequences of exposure could be devastating. Lets home that the few health officials who are there on the ground can help isolate cases quickly and safely.

Read more about this story on NationalGeographic.com.