Respiratory illnesses – such as those that develop from the influenza virus – are already the main cause of death for native communities.
By Sunday 5 April, Brazil had reported more than 11,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 486 deaths.
Infections were initially concentrated in the industrialized state of São Paulo. However, they have now spread across the country, including to indigenous territories in the Amazon basin that are the size of France and Spain combined.
The first case among indigenous peoples was recorded in Amazonas state.
“There is an incredible risk of the virus spreading across the native communities and wiping them out,” says Dr Sofia Mendonça, a researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).
Dr Mendonça is the co-ordinator of a university-led health project among indigenous peoples in the Xingu river basin in the Amazon rainforest.
She fears the coronavirus could have a similar impact to previous major outbreaks of highly contagious respiratory diseases such as measles.
In the 1960s, a measles outbreak among members of the Yanomami community living near the border with Venezuela killed 9% of those infected.