A mysterious disease affecting the indigenous Kogi people, who inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, has resulted in eleven fatalities raising serious concerns among health authorities in the departments of Magdalena and César.
The disease causes symptoms similar to the zika and chikungunya viruses and has an evolution time of six to eight days.
This health emergency has come to light with the reopening of the Tayrona National Park, which closed at the beginning of this year for a month of environmental regeneration.
Over 30 people have fallen sick in recent weeks, describing feelings of nausea, severe chest pains, coughing, headaches and even flu-like symptoms that include chills and a fever. Although health officials have yet to confirm what is causing these afflictions, they believe the disease could be an aggressive strand of Acute Respiratory infection (IRA).
According to the César department’s Secretary of Health, Carmen Daza Orozco, several youngsters of the Kogi are also being treated for malnutrition, which is linked to IRA.
The disease is believed to be targeting mostly the weak and those with little access to medical services or clean water. Those among the Kogi with an advanced state of malnutrition are more susceptible to immunological complications that can be fatal, if left untreated.
Last weekend, the Colombian Army began medical missions along the Badillo river where three indigenous settlements have been impacted by the virus.
After several failed attempts to reach the mountainous area due to poor weather conditions, helicopters transporting almost eight tons of food and medicines landed near Zinkaka, Tusimake and Bunkuana, and began airlifting children out of the danger zone so they could reach hospitals in Valledupar.
According to local health authorities the spread of the virus appears to have been contained within the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and are advising outsiders to stay away from indigenous communities to protect the population from contamination, and prevent the virus from potentially spreading to nearby urban areas.
Military doctors have entered the area in an attempt to identify the cause of the mysterious virus and so far have treated some 40 people with acute respiratory problems. Blood samples from the Kogi have been sent to the National Institute of Health to discard a mutation of mosquito-borne viruses prevalent in the tropics, such as chikungunya, zika and yellow-fever.