Kuru

A disease of the central nervous system which destroys neurons in the brain and affects mainly women and children. Symptoms include loss of muscular control and acute hysteria. Death occurs within three years of the appearance of symptoms. There is no present incidence of Kuru which was confined almost entirely to the Fore people of the Eastern Highlands and first noted by Europeans in 1952. In the late 1950s Dr V. Zigas, the government medical officer at Kainantu, and D.C. Gajdusek, an American biologist who had been working at an Australian research institute in Melbourne, began a study of the disease. In the early 1970s it was discovered that kuru was transmitted by Fore rituals of mourning, which involved eating parts of the bodies of the dead. How the disease evolved amongst the Fore people and not amongst other peoples with similar mourning rites is not known. The incidence of kuru declined in the 1970s as people gave up ritual cannibalism and has now disappeared entirely.

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