The poisoned necklace

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Science  05 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6239, pp. 1075
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6239.1075

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As a child, Marcelino Pinedo Cecilio lived in a huge longhouse in the Amazon rainforest with his family and tribe. They grew manioc, yucca, peanuts, corn, and jungle potato, sometimes using a root with spines to clear fields. Then, one day in the 1950s, an outsider visited their village. Soon after, villagers developed a sore throat and burning fever. Many died, and the tribe scattered. Like so many indigenous peoples since the arrival of Europeans, Cecilio's group was likely struck down by a common Western disease—maybe influenza or whooping cough—inadvertently carried by the visitor. It is an old story, repeated often since 1492. Today's isolated tribes are in the same position as New World peoples 5 centuries ago, with immune systems naïve to Western pathogens.

  • * in Columbiana, Peru. Reporting for this story was supported in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.