A doctor working with the largest tribe in the Amazon has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Brazilian Ministry of Health said on Friday, sounding the alarm that the epidemic could spread to vulnerable and remote indigenous communities with an effect. devastating.
The unnamed doctor returned from vacation on March 18 to work with the Tikunas, a tribe of more than 30,000 people who live in upper Amazon near the borders with Colombia and Peru.
He developed a fever later that day and isolated himself, testing positive for Covid-19 respiratory disease a week later, the ministry said.
Eight tribesmen he cared for on his first day of work for the Sesai indigenous health service were also isolated in their homes and are being watched, the ministry said.
The doctor’s infection is the first confirmed case of a virus directly present in an indigenous village.
This raises fears of an epidemic that could be fatal for the 850,000 natives of Brazil who have a history of decimation by diseases transmitted by Europeans, from smallpox and malaria to influenza.
Health experts say that their lifestyle in communal hamlets under large thatched structures increases the risk of contagion if only one member contracts the new coronavirus.
Social isolation is difficult to practice for the tribes.
The ministry said the doctor had no symptoms when he returned to work with a protective mask and gloves, but quarantined himself as soon as he developed a fever.
G1 website columnist Matheus Leitão reported that the doctor is Brazilian and that he may have caught the virus while on vacation in southern Brazil or on the boat going up to the Amazon to his location. work in Santo Antônio do Içá.
Sesai has so far reported four suspected cases of coronavirus in indigenous communities, including only one in the Amazon.
But doctors fear the virus will spread quickly among tribes whose immune systems are often already weakened by malnutrition, hepatitis B, tuberculosis and diabetes.
About a third of indigenous deaths in Brazil are due to existing respiratory diseases.
The H1N1 epidemic in 2016 killed hundreds of indigenous people, mostly from the Guaraní tribe in the colder south of Brazil, where around half of them caught the virus.