Modern Man – the Most Infectious on Earth


Contact with the outside world had resulted in the death of between 50 and 80 per cent of the members of "uncontacted" Amazon tribes

The modern man of today’s world is teeming with infectious agents. He is notoriously infectious. This immediately becomes evident as soon as he makes contact with the "uncontacted" indigenous people. Such encounters between the people of the "civilized" and the "primitive" world have ended up in disaster for the latter, bringing death to them in large numbers from infections.

Infectious agents lurk everywhere on our body surface. On our skin, hair, clothes, simply everywhere on our body. Each square centimeter of skin alone harbors about 100,000 bacteria. And a single sneeze can spray droplets infested with bacteria and viruses as far as 3 feet. 


Saving indigenous

populations from extinction

Dr. Douglas Rodrigues, specialist in health care of indigenous populations at the Federal University of São Paulo’s Paulista School of Medecine, has over 35 years’ experience working with the indigenous communities in Brazil. He cautions contact with the isolated peoples and proposes some immediate measures to be taken before engaging in such encounters. Contact processes, including those providing medical assistance, should be controlled, protected and monitored in order to mitigate the disastrous effects of the contacts, for the indigenous peoples and to give them time to adapt to their new reality of interaction with the outside world.

He further states, "Contingency plans are needed for addressing the outbreaks of disease likely to follow contact (between us and the indigenous people). Contagions resulting from contact should be considered public health emergencies. Mortality rates can be drastically reduced by prompt medical attention, including immunizations. These measures are needed to prevent the type genocides that had occurred in the recent past".

"Uncontacted" indigenous communities

The "uncontacted" indigenous communities are the communities that have had no contact with the external world, especially the so-called "civilized" world. On the other hand, there are the communities that have had (or continue to have) limited contact with the people from the outside world.

No one knows for sure the exact number of "uncontacted" indigenous communities who live on earth. However, the guesstimates stand at over 100, while most expected to be living in Brazilian and Peruvian parts of the Amazon and in Indonesian part of New Guinea. Most of these figures have been arrived at through aerial surveys.

The Amazon rainforest covers about 2.1 million square miles across South America, and is a hotbed of indigenous communities. In that vast expanse, there are tribes of people who have been tucked away and completely separated from the outside world. When people from modern society do contact these indigenous tribes, they risk violence and the spread of disease. For violence, there had been numerous instances of where they were massacred by the drug traffickers, illicit loggers and miners. For diseases, few contacts these communities had with outsiders, who had hitherto been cut off from them, had brought them death through illnesses in unprecedented numbers.

Survival International, a London-based NGO founded in 1969, advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. Its director, Stephen Corry, commenting on the fatality of the so-called "first contact" with the outside world, "This can prove fatal for a tribe and usually results in the death of between 50 and 80 per cent of its members, who have no immunity to diseases common elsewhere".


Virgin Soil Epidemics

This kind of devastation (epidemics) native populations experience in the face of their "first contact" with the outside world is termed virgin soil epidemic, an expression first coined by the American professor of history, geography and American studies, Alfred W. Crosby of University of Texas at Austin.  This defines, "the epidemics in which the populations at risk have had no previous contact with the diseases that strike them and are therefore immunologically almost defenseless".

Flu, common cold, measles and chickenpox are some of the illnesses these people were afflicted with giving rise to high mortality rates.

Researchers Robert Walker et al from the Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, USA who compiled information on contacts of the native Amazonians with the (European) outsiders (both hostile as well as "peaceful") between 1875 and 2008 reported of 117 epidemics that affected 59 different indigenous societies and caused over 11,000 deaths, mostly (75%) from measles, influenza, and malaria. 

Equipped with the past knowledge on epidemics and ways to minimize their deleterious impact, a team of Christian missionaries made contact with the Zo’e tribe in the Amazon in 1980s. A medical team from the Brazilian government’s indigenous people’s authority (FUNAI) built a small clinic in the vicinity in order to treat Zo’e people who fall ill while limiting their contact with others. Yet a quarter of the Zo’e’s population died from the common diseases within a six year time span. Subsequently, their population stabilized.

Tourists too take a great interest in making contact with the indigenous tribes, which they try through the guides who are acquaint with some of the natives. They try to talk to them and give them tools, clothes and things to help them.

Francisco Estremadoyro, Executive Director of Propurus, a Peruvian organisation for the protection of the Peruvian tribesmen denouncing such practices said, "The clothes you wear are full of germs. The tools you have at home look clean, but they have germs, so the possibility of spreading germs is very very high."

José Carlos Meirelles, of FUNAI believes, "If they don’t make things secure for whoever turns up there, unfortunately we’ll repeat history and we will be jointly responsible for the extermination of these people."

Both Brazilian and Peruvian governments have warned the tourists of the need to keep away from the tribal people, to avoid spreading infections. However, the local activists claim the advice is largely ignored.

Survival International’s Corry coming out strongly against the promotion of tourism in "uncontacted" areas, "The economic growth of those countries is coming at the price of the lives of their indigenous citizens. Their newfound wealth must be used to protect those few uncontacted tribes that have so far survived the ongoing genocide of America’s first people."


Policy change from outreach to hands-off protection

The former head of FUNAI, Sydney Possuelo, has first-hand experience as a "sertanista" who was the first to make "first contact" with remote communities in the Amazon. He fought successfully to change Brazil’s policy from outreach to hands-off protection after seeing the dire consequences of ending isolation.

"They come into contact with you and start to die off like flies. Everything plays against them. They become so subordinate to us, because we break up their education, their health, their means of work, their mythical system. They become outcasts. Please name a single tribe in the last 500 years that became better off after contact. There is none" Possuelo, certainly doesn’t mince his words.

According to Possuelo the tribesmen are not mere onlookers. "The tribesmen were more knowledgeable about the outside world than is often believed. They told the intervention team they had been watching the village for many years and recognised one of the FUNAI officials, who had previously been based there. The biggest fear from the interaction is that flu and other common modern viruses could spread into the community. In similar cases in the past, isolated tribes have been almost wiped out by contacts with missionaries and government officials".

Corry, stressing the importance of keeping the hands-off the uncontacted indigenous communities in their own land laments, "Tribes would "soon be made extinct" if their land was not protected".


Seattle on Earth and Us

Thought to have born around 1786 on or near Black Island, Washington and died in 1866, Chief Seattle (birth name Si’ahl) is a respected native Indian tribal leader. He was a great warrior in his youth, and stood around 6 feet. Also a great orator; and when he addressed an audience, his voice is said to have carried a distance of 3/4 mile. Among his speeches and quotes, a notable one is what argues in favor of ecological responsibility and respect of Native Americans’ land rights.

This is one of his famous quotes on the relationship between and earth and man.

"The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves".


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