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Swine flu strikes Amazonian Indians

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Swine flu has been reported for the first time in Amazonian Indians, raising fears that the virus will cause more contagion and potential deaths in tribal groups around the world.  

Seven members of the Matsigenka tribe in the Peruvian Amazon have tested positive for H1N1, the first example of the virus in Amazonian peoples, according to the human rights group Survival International.  

Indigenous communities have little to no immunity to outside pathogens, which is why many Native Americans succumbed to disease when Europeans first arrived on the continent  

Indeed, swine flu deaths are already stacking up in tribes around the world.  Last month, H1N1 took its first casualty in Australia, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man in Kiwirrkurra, one of the country’s most remote Outback communities, the BBC reported.

Aborigines are being hospitalized at five times the rate of the general population.  

In Manitoba, Canada, swine flu has struck First Nations people at a rate seven times that of the general population, and Inuit people have been infected at a rate 70 times greater than the general population, or about 1 in 10. Canada's indigenous people were heavily hit during the 1918 Spanish flu.

Ethan Rubinstein, an infectious disease expert at the University of Manitoba told the Agence France Presse, "I don't expect the death rate [for the H1N1 swine flu] to be even close to 1918, but the spread of the disease may still be like that."

Image of Matsigenka courtesy J. Mazower/Survival International

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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