Encyclopedia

Kuru

Kuru is an extremely rare and fatal disease of the nervous system. It reached its peak in the 50s and 60s of the 20th century among the Fore tribe inhabiting the mountains of New Guinea.

Fore people acquire the disease through cannibalism during funeral rites.

The disease is characterized by difficulties in walking, swallowing and chewing food. Symptoms also consist of loss of body coordination and muscle spasms.

What are the symptoms?

The clinical manifestations of the disease are similar to most common neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

Symptoms are:

• Difficulty walking;
• Constantly worsening muscle coordination and maintaining body balance;
• Difficulty swallowing;
• Slurred speech;
• Mood changes;
• Muscle spasms and tremors;
• Pain in arms and legs;
• Occasional laughing and/or crying;

Malnutrition and starvation follow the initial symptoms, as those who are ill find it increasingly difficult to chew and swallow food. These secondary symptoms can lead to death within a year.

What are the causes?

A person acquires the disease by eating infected brain or nerve tissue or by coming into direct contact with open or gaping wounds.

The clinical condition was developed by New Guineans after eating the brain tissue of their deceased relatives during funeral rituals.

Women and children are infected by the majority of people on the island who have already been infected with the disease. And also due to the fact that they are key participants in the funeral rituals.

The government of New Guinea does not tolerate the practice of cannibalism. However, the disease has a very long incubation period.

Therefore, occasional cases still occur, but extremely rarely.

Infectious abnormal proteins known as prions cause the disease. They connect and form lumps in the brain.

Scientists believe that healthy proteins begin to mimic the unusual shape of prions.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJ) and fatal familial insomnia and other degenerative diseases are caused by prions.

These diseases (as well as Kuru) are spongiform diseases. All spongiform diseases cause holes in the brain and nerve tissue and on a CT scan, they look like a mushroom, and they are all fatal.

Treatment of kuru

There is no known method of curing the disease. According to the University of Utah, USA, boiling water, radiation therapy and acid cannot destroy the prions that cause the disease.

Brains infected with prions remain infectious even when preserved in formaldehyde for years.

Prognosis

Sufferers need help to stand up and move around, but eventually lose the ability to swallow and chew food.

According to the US National Center for Biotechnology Information, prion-infected people die in a coma within 6 to 12 months of initial symptoms.
Prevention
The disease is extremely rare, being acquired only and only after ingestion of brain and nervous tissue or when coming into direct contact with wounds infected with prions.

Prevention of Kuru is the task of both government and society and to this end any attempts at cannibalism must be condemned. It is believed that the disease has now completely disappeared.

But the cases of cannibalism in Syria in 2013 brought back the memory of this terrible and fatal disease, almost forgotten by the public.

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