Kuru is a rare and fatal brain disorder that occurred at epidemic levels during the 1950s-60s among the Fore people in the highlands of New Guinea. The disease was the result of the practice of ritualistic cannibalism among the Fore, in which relatives prepared and consumed the tissues (including brain) of deceased family members. Brain tissue from individuals with kuru was highly infectious, and the disease was transmitted either through eating or by contact with open sores or wounds. Government discouragement of the practice of cannibalism led to a continuing decline in the disease, which has now mostly disappeared.
Kuru belongs to a class of infectious diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), also known as prion diseases. The hallmark of a TSE disease is misshapen protein molecules that clump together and accumulate in brain tissue. Scientists believe that misshapen prion proteins have the ability to change their shape and cause other proteins of the same type to also change shape. Other TSEs include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and fatal familial insomnia in humans, bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle (also known as mad cow disease), scrapie in sheep and goats, and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk.
|Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) Foundation Inc.
341 W. 38th Street, Suite 501
New York, NY 10018
|Centers for Disease Control and
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
1600 Clifton Road, N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30333
Tel: 800-311-3435 404-639-3311/404-639-3543
|NIAID Office of Communications and Government Relations
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
5601 Fishers Lane, MSC 9806
Bethesda, MD 20892
2527 South Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70118-3013
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892
NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.
All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.
Last updated May 20, 2014