Kuru Disease: A Cannibalistic Horror

Kuru is a very rare neurodegenerative disease caused by prions. It is fatal and no cure for Kuru is known. Fore people of Papua New Guinea started eating the dead as a funeral ritual. Women and children majorly ate the dead person’s brain and picked the disease. This practice of cannibalism wreaked havoc in the area in the early 1900s. Around 1960, when researchers found out the source of the disease, this practice was stopped but the prion from the brain has a long incubation period and hence continued to kill people till the 2000s.

The word ‘kuru’ in the Fore language means shaking which is a major symptom of the disease. It is also known as the laughing disease because the affected person bursts into uncontrollable laughter.

Symptoms of Kuru Disease

Kuru disease tends to spread in three stages:

  • Stage I: The person becomes lethargic, headache and joint pain follow. The symptoms are so regular that it is often neglected at this stage.
  • Stage II: At this stage, the person faces difficulty in walking and major tremors occur.
  • Stage III: The last stage where the person becomes bedridden, he cannot eat or speak and starts to lose his memory.

The incubation period for Kuru is up to 50 years after exposure to the prion. Other symptoms include: lack in coordination, slurred speech, behavioural changes, confusion, fatigue, hallucinations, etc.

Causative Agent of Kuru

Kuru is not caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses, but a whole new infectious agent called prions. They are protein particles that affect the regular proteins in the brain cells causing them to misfold. These misfolded proteins left holes in the cerebellum like a sponge.

A dead person’s brain is often infected by these prions and hence the disease. This disease is also communicable, open cuts and soars of a living infected person can pass on the agent to a healthy organism.

Kuru has been classified under transmissible spongiform encephalopathy(TSE), which include similar diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker disease, Mad cow disease.

Also Read : Prions


Kuru disease is an incurable disease and nothing can be done to prevent it.

Read more about such diseases at BYJU’S Biology.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a cure for kuru disease?

No, there is no cure for Kuru disease.

How did the first person get kuru?

One of the Fore people had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and died of it. The villagers ate the brain of this person and started the chain of Kuru disease.

Who is most affected by kuru?

Since women and children eat the major part of the dead brain, they are most likely affected by Kuru.

How is kuru different from CJD?

The cause for CJD is 95% of the time genetic, i.e. the person carries a gene that mutates over time to give rise to prions, whereas Kuru disease is not genetic but caused due to cannibalism.

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