Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Slate.msn.com, Oct. 24, 2000
Source URL: http://slate.msn.com/HeyWait/00-10-24/SideB02.asp


Neel discovered on the basis of earlier blood antibody profiles of the Yanomamö that the great majority of Yanomamö had not been exposed to measles, but that some had. Neel wrote that this situation "posed a major potential threat, since the tragic impact of measles on what is termed a 'virgin soil' population has been well-documented." That is, lighted matches were being dropped around the oily rags, and though a few scattered rags had gone up without igniting the others, it was only a matter of time. Then, immediately prior to his departure into the field, he discovered that measles had already broken out among the Brazilian Yanomamö only two days' travel from his site, and so he acquired vaccine for a planned program of preventive immunization ("fire breaks") in the Venezuelan area where he would be working. This plan was overtaken by events: When Neel arrived at the field site, Brazilians were already there, and measles had broken out. What followed was a mad scramble to immunize, treat the secondary complications with antibiotics, and yet stay ahead of the epidemic to keep it from spreading far beyond its points of entry.

Neel's account of the epidemic is on Pages 161–165 of his 1994 book Physician to the Gene Pool.