Deadly pathogens


A complaint against John Chau is he endangered the Sentinelese by exposing them to “deadly pathogens”. In response:

1. That could be true, but it depends what “deadly pathogens” he would have likely carried. Here is what Survival International states:

It’s not impossible that the Sentinelese have just been infected by deadly pathogens to which they have no immunity, with the potential to wipe out the entire tribe…Whole populations are being wiped out by violence from outsiders who steal their land and resources, and by diseases like the flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

a. The first part is groundless if not absurd. Chau was shot dead with a ranged weapon – a bow and arrows – before he could go anywhere near the Sentinelese.

At most, the Sentinelese might be at risk of infection by coming into close contact with Chau’s recently deceased body. However, a dead person isn’t going to cough or sneeze on anyone. Most skin infections aren’t “deadly” to others, assuming Chau even had a skin infection. And what kind of blood-borne disease do we suspect Chau would have had? HIV? Hep B or C? A viral hemorrhagic fever like Ebola? There’s no evidence Chau was anything but a healthy young man.

Moreover, the Sentinelese themselves evidently had the good sense to bury him immediately rather than leaving his body exposed on the beach (or wherever) since to do so could breed disease.

In short, it’s unlikely Chau would’ve passed on any “deadly pathogens” to the Sentinelese let alone deadly pathogens in sufficient numbers to cause the Sentinelese harm (since a minimum number of pathogens is typically required to infect another person).

Sure, it’s “not impossible” – how can a phrase like that ever be gainsaid? – but it’s also “not impossible” that I become an astronaut or a Navy SEAL next year. Or that I win the Nobel Prize.

Finally, if it’s true there have been other “outsiders” present among the Sentinelese, then it belies the supposition that the Sentinelese are an “uncontacted” people.

b. Moving on, let’s take a look at the two diseases mentioned:

Flu. The flu (influenza) could indeed be a legitimate and serious concern, especially given how some flu pandemics in human history have played out (e.g. the Spanish flu in 1918, the avian flu in 1997, the swine flu in 2009). Though, to be fair, bringing up flu pandemics is probably judging by the worst case scenario. More to the point, it depends on the particular influenza type and strain and so on. Some are worse than others.

At the same time, from the human perspective, many people don’t get flu shots or vaccinations each year, yet their bodies are able to fight off the flu infection. This includes children whose immune systems have never been exposed to the flu virus. Of course, I’m not suggesting there’s absolutely no danger to a population that’s never been exposed to influenza. Rather I’m suggesting the human immune system is highly adaptable and resilient even against pathogens it hasn’t encountered before, though again there are no guarantees.

Besides, if Chau received flu shots, and waited an appropriate time to fully recover before embarking to the Sentinelese, he would have minimized the risks of infecting the Sentinelese with the flu.

Some have drawn parallels between the Sentinelese and Native American populations when they first came in contact with Europeans. Let’s consider that for a moment. In general smallpox is a deadlier disease for previously healthy humans than the flu. The worst smallpox epidemics in the New World produced approximately 30% mortality rates (Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, 2003 edition). No doubt that’s horrible, but compare it with Survival International’s claim that “whole populations are being wiped out” by a disease like the flu.

Measles. Chau would’ve likely been vaccinated against the measles since most Americans are vaccinated against the measles with the MMR vaccine. Not to mention as an international traveler to a remote part of the world Chau would most likely have been checked by a medical professional to ensure he’s immunized prior to his departure from American shores. The MMR vaccine (two doses) confers lifelong immunity in 95%-99% of those vaccinated.

To get to the relevant point, it’s quite unlikely for a person who has been vaccinated to transmit the measles virus. Here’s what the CDC states: “fully vaccinated people are also less likely to spread the disease to other people”. The Immunization Action Coalition (affiliated with the CDC) is more forthright: “Transmission of the vaccine viruses does not occur from a vaccinated person.”

A major exception is when a person has been recently vaccinated, then the person could produce enough of the measles virus to infect some of the people with whom he comes in contact. But it’s very unlikely Chau would have been recently vaccinated for the measles since most Americans receive the vaccine when they’re children.

2. The argument is a double-edged sword: Chau likewise risked exposing himself to whatever pathogens the Sentinelese have.

3. If Chau had made peaceful contact with the Sentinelese, and the Sentinelese had welcomed him into their society, then there’s no reason to think Chau couldn’t broach setting up proper health care services for the Sentinelese if they so inclined.

Short of this, according to his Instagram profile, Chau was a wilderness EMT. As such, Chau would have had some (limited) medical training and experience. He could have used his medical background to benefit the Sentinelese.

4. I’ve read the British were present in the Andaman Islands (which include the Sentinel islands) in the past (e.g. 1800s). So it’s not necessarily the case that the Sentinelese have never been contacted by the outside world but that they haven’t been contacted in modern times (e.g. N. Korea is a closed society today but they weren’t always a closed society). This could be relevant if the Sentinelese were ever exposed to diseases from the British.

5. It’s rich that secularists are criticizing Chau for endangering the Sentinelese with pathogens when the same secularists welcome illegal immigrants and “refugees” from developing nations into the US though many illegal immigrants and “refugees” haven’t had proper medical screens and evaluations. For example, see what Walter Williams has said:

The Immigration and Nationality Act mandates that all immigrants and refugees undergo a medical screening examination to determine whether they have an inadmissible health condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has technical instructions for medical examination of prospective immigrants in their home countries before they are permitted to enter the U.S. They are screened for communicable and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, polio, measles, mumps and HIV. They are also tested for syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases. The CDC also has medical screening guidelines for refugees. These screenings are usually performed 30 to 90 days after refugees arrive in the United States.

But what about people who enter our country illegally? The CDC specifically cites the possibility of the cross-border movement of HIV, measles, pertussis, rubella, rabies, hepatitis A, influenza, tuberculosis, shigellosis and syphilis. Chris Cabrera, a Border Patrol agent in South Texas, warned: “What’s coming over into the U.S. could harm everyone. We are starting to see scabies, chickenpox, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections and different viruses.” Some of the youngsters illegally entering our country are known to be carrying lice and suffering from various illnesses. Because there have been no medical examinations of undocumented immigrants, we have no idea how many are carrying infectious diseases that might endanger American children when these immigrants enter schools across our nation.

According to the CDC, in most industrialized countries, the number of cases of tuberculosis and the number of deaths caused by TB steadily declined during the 100 years prior to the mid-1980s. Since the ’80s, immigrants have reversed this downward trend in countries that have had substantial levels of immigration from areas where the disease is prevalent. In 2002, the CDC said: “Today, the proportion of immigrants among persons reported as having TB exceeds 50 percent in several European countries, including Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. A similar proportion has been predicted for the United States” ( The number of active TB cases among American-born citizens declined from an estimated 17,725 in 1986 to 3,201 in 2015. That was an 80 percent drop. Data reported to the National Tuberculosis Surveillance System show that the TB incidence among foreign-born people in the United States (15.1 cases per 100,000) is approximately 13 times the incidence among U.S.-born people (1.2 cases per 100,000). Those statistics refer to immigrants who are legally in the U.S. There is no way for us to know the incidence of tuberculosis and other diseases carried by those who are in our country illegally and hence not subject to medical examination.

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