Skip to content

    Brain & Nervous System Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Definition of Kuru

    Kuru: Kuru is a slowly progressive fatal disease of the brain caused by an infectious agent transmitted among the South Fore people in Papua New Guinea.

    Kuru is a form of subacute spongiform encephalopathy. It was once thought to be due to a slow virus, but it is now believed to be caused by a tiny protein particle called a prion. It appears to be similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or "mad cow disease") and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

    Recommended Related to Brain & Nervous System

    Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

    Important It is possible that the main title of the report Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.

    Read the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome article > >

    The disease causes a gait disturbance, incoordination, trembling, and shivering. In time, difficulty in swallowing and feeding oneself leads to malnutrition. Death usually occurs within several years of the onset of the disease. Kuru is also called trembling disease (kuru means trembling). In sheep and goats, a similar disease is called scrapie.

    The discovery of kuru is one of the more interesting detective stories of 20th-century medicine. Dr. D. Carlton Gajdusek (1923-2008) first described the disease among the Fore people of New Guinea. It was known by them as kuru (meaning "trembling"). After years of living among the Fore people, Gajdusek came to the conclusion that the disease was transmitted in the ritualistic eating of the brains of the deceased, a Fore funeral custom. With the elimination of cannibalism, Kuru disappeared within a generation. In 1976 Gajdusek shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for "discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases."

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Richard Senelick, MD on January 08, 2015

    Today on WebMD

    nerve damage
    Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
    senior woman with lost expression
    Know the early warning signs.
     
    woman in art gallery
    Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
    medical marijuana plant
    What is it used for?
     
    woman embracing dog
    Quiz
    boy hits soccer ball with head
    Slideshow
     
    red and white swirl
    Article
    marijuana plant
    ARTICLE
     
    brain illustration stroke
    Slideshow
    nerve damage
    Slideshow
     
    Alzheimers Overview
    Slideshow
    Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix
    Quiz