Sounds fun, doesn’t it? To have a brain disease that makes you break out into laughter every so often? Not so much when it comes in the form of a “transmissible spongiform encephalopathy” (that’s a neurological disorder of a sort) that is totally incurable, and will eventually kill you.
The term Kuru comes from the Fore word “to shake”. Fore is the tribe in Papua New Guinea that sort of, like, invented the disease. They didn’t so much invent as be the first discovered people to have it – by Australian guys in the fifties. The cause of the disorder is prions – which are proteins or particles which invade the brain. Other neurological conditions caused by prions are Creutzgeldt-Jakob Disease, Fatal Familial Insomnia, Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker Syndrome, and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (also known as Mad Cow Disease).
In addition to the random laughing, the other symptoms of Kuru are headaches, joint pains, and trembling. The way you get it…well. You have to ingest the prion that causes the disease. So, the Fore tribe had these funerary practices that included eating the flesh and organs of the dead members of the tribe in order to absorb their life force. The Fore started this practice in the 19th century, which seems weird. I mean, why then? Anywhoo, this eating of the dead introduced these prions into the system of the people who ate the dead people, and then when they died people cleaned up after them and THOSE people got the prions, and so on.
Lucky for the people of Papua New Guinea, some of them developed an immunity to the prion. Also, people from University College London are working to learn more.
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