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Health ministry monitoring Region One after strange deaths in Venezuela

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    Health ministry monitoring Region One after strange deaths in Venezuela

    The Ministry of Health has upped its health surveillance in Region One following the deaths of a number of Venezuelan Amerindians from an unknown disease in a province close to Guyana.

    Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy told Stabroek News recently that the ministry was aware of the issue and had been monitoring the situation for one month now. He said about 38 Warau Indians in the province had died from suspected rabies, but it did not border Guyana. ?The surveillance team in Region One has increased.

    ?Our team has been in an out and we have been doing so for about a month. So far there has been nothing to indicate that anyone from the Guyana side has been affected,? the minister said.

    The disease was prevalent in the swampy Delta Amacuro, a state that is inhabited largely by Warau Indians, a nomadic indigenous group said to number more than 20,000. Reports are that of the 38 people who died, 16 died since the start of June. Meanwhile, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have said preliminary studies indicated that the latest outbreak may be a type of infectious rabies transmitted through bites from bats.

    The symptoms which last three to six weeks, include partial paralysis, convulsions and an extreme fear of water. Also, persons become rigid just before they succumb. The disease is believed to be fatal in most cases. The researchers also noted that recently many animals in the area had died though they said no correlation had been established between those deaths and the disease.

    According to a report in the New York Times Warau leaders accompanied by the researchers, took photographs and written testimonies documenting the disease to the health ministry in Venezuela earlier this month in order to set up a meeting with government epidemiologists but they were kept waiting for several hours. ?We travelled by bus 16 hours to Caracas to make the authorities aware of the situation with the hope of getting some response,? said Norvelis G?mez, a Warau paramedic who was one of four community leaders in the group, told the paper. He said too that they were ?met with disrespect on every level, as if the deaths of indigenous people are not even worth noting.?

  • #2
    Re: Health ministry monitoring Region One after strange deaths in Venezuela

    See on the same incident, a NYT article (Aug 6, 2008)( and a Promed post (


    • #3
      Re: Health ministry monitoring Region One after strange deaths in Venezuela


      Professors Help Indigenous Group Fight Deadly Rabies Outbreak
      Two UC Berkeley professors found that a deadly outbreak of rabies has hit an indigenous group in Venezuela.

      By Rachel Gross
      Contributing Writer
      Tuesday, October 14, 2008 | 9:42 pm

      Deep in the South American rainforest, a deadly disease was claiming the lives of the Marao people, an indigenous group in Venezuela.

      Once victims developed symptoms-headache, fever, fear of water-they were dead within a week. Yet after more than 30 of these deaths, community members were still baffled by the disease's identity.

      Though it may sound like the premise of a Michael Crichton novel, this was the reality UC Berkeley professors Charles Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs faced upon traveling to the state of Delta Amacuro to lead a community health project in June. Five days into their initial project, indigenous leaders came to the couple to ask for their help in identifying and dealing with the illness.

      Briggs, a professor of medical and linguistic anthropology and folklore, and his wife Mantini-Briggs, an assistant professor in the department of demography and a former Venezuelan physician, combined their fields of expertise to deal with the outbreak.

      The pair traveled throughout the humid rainforest, speaking with relatives of victims and recording symptoms. What they found was a very similar set of symptoms in victims from the 30 communities they visited.

      "They try to eat, and they can't swallow food," said Briggs, who conducted interviews on the trip and is fluent in the Marao language. "And then they can't swallow water, and there's an exaggeration of the gagging response � at that point, they develop a sense of fear to where if they even see water which is offered to them in a glass, they are afraid of the water."

      The couple found almost all the victims had been bitten by bats. Upon further investigation near the Orinoco River, Mantini-Briggs recognized that the symptoms matched those of rabies.

      But identifying the disease was not enough. Without a vaccine, there was not much the researchers could do.

      Although the vaccine is cheap and very effective in the U.S., the indigenous group does not have easy access to it.

      "Unfortunately in Venezuela, race tends to be a factor that shapes the quality of health care that you receive," Briggs said.

      For the pair, the research was one of the most emotionally taxing endeavours they had faced. The last victim they saw die was a 19-year-old girl whose husband had died of the illness a week before. They stayed with her from when she first developed symptoms until three hours before her death.

      "It was the most difficult professional experience I've ever had," Briggs said. "It puts a huge mark on your heart," Mantini-Briggs added.

      The couple stayed in the community and slept in hammocks under thatch roofs-exposing themselves to the same risks the Marao faced.

      Toward the end of the trip, Mantini-Briggs herself was bitten by a bat in her sleep. Still, she continued working to save the lives of community members despite a possible rabies infection.

      "It was a scary moment for me," Mantini-Briggs said. "Fortunately, I'm still alive, and I want to go back and fight for the lives of the people I love."

      The researchers took their findings to the government in Caracas, the country's capital. But rather than responding with medical help, officials rejected the possibility of a rabies outbreak and accused the researchers of trying to discredit the government.

      Because the outbreak took place during elections, the government sought to dismiss any information that would ruin its image, Briggs said.

      "Without ever coming up with an idea as to what the disease might be, they essentially rendered the epidemic invisible," he said.

      With no access to the vaccine, the researchers provided what treatment they could. They pressed the government to provide vaccines and mosquito netting, but succeeded only in getting netting for some communities.

      Briggs returned to the U.S. a day before fall classes started, saying he had a "sacred obligation" to students. Mantini-Briggs returned the day after.

      Both researchers have worked with communities in the delta area for more than 20 years. Their current project-to bring communities together to fight severe health problems-follows their acclaimed research and treatment of the 1990s cholera epidemic.

      The couple won the J.I. Staley Prize in anthropology for the book they co-authored on their cholera research, and used the $10,000 prize money, along with royalties from the book, to fund their future projects in the area.

      The pair will lecture in Kroeber Hall Nov. 10 to spread awareness about issues of health and medical justice in Venezuela. They will travel back by December and said they plan to resume their health project and use photographs and film footage in order to increase awareness about the rabies outbreak.

      "We hope to return as quickly as possible, to see what progress has been made," Briggs said.


      • #4
        Re: Health ministry monitoring Region One after strange deaths in Venezuela

        From one of the other links (unvaxed cats catching rabit bats is cause for concern):

        Dr. Mantini-Briggs says she was surprised to find that many Warao villages had acquired cats and they were told it was because there were too many bats that were biting the children.
        The salvage of human life ought to be placed above barter and exchange ~ Louis Harris, 1918