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Kuru (disease)

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Classification and external resources
ICD- 10 A 81.8
ICD- 9 046.0
DiseasesDB 31861
MedlinePlus 001379
eMedicine med/1248
MeSH D007729

Kuru is a disease which affects the brain. It was endemic among the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea and was universally fatal. It is characterized by headaches, joint pains and shaking of the limbs. It is believed to be caused by prions and is related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It is best known for the epidemic that occurred in Papua New Guinea in the middle of the twentieth century. The word kuru means "trembling with fear" in the language of the Fore people, those most commonly afflicted with the disease. It is also known as the laughing sickness due to the pathologic bursts of laughter the patient displays when afflicted with the disease. Trembling is present in almost all patients with transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.


Kuru was first noted in native people of New Guinea in 1957–1959. It was in the late 1950s that the full extent of the disease was realized, after it had reached large infection rates in the South Fore of the Okapa Subdistrict, though the agent was unknown.

The disease was researched by Daniel Carleton Gajdusek who was awarded (with Baruch S. Blumberg) the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 for his work on it.


It is believed by some that the disease spread easily in the Fore people due to their cannibalistic funeral practices. The dysmorphism evident in the infection rates -- it was more prevalent in women and children -- is because while the men of the village ate the flesh of the deceased, the women and children ate the brain, where the disease particles are concentrated. There is also the strong possibility that it was passed on to women and children more easily because they took on the task of cleaning relatives after death.With elimination of these practices, Kuru disappeared among the South Fore within a generation.

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