Topics: Kuru, Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, Incubation period Pages: 2 (379 words) Published: November 8, 2008
Kuru is a culture specific disease of the brain and nervous system. At one point, it was thought that kuru was caused by a virus with a prolonged incubation period. New evidence now point to priors, which are proteins that have the ability to cause the cells that it invades to repeatedly duplicate itself. The symptoms of this fatal disease include things such as contracted face muscles, slurred speech, palsy, and the loss of motor control, which results in the inability to walk and eventually eat. It is said that death almost always occurs within six to twelve months of the onset of symptoms. Kuru was first recognized among the South Fore at the beginning of the 20th century. It gradually became more frequent up through the 1950’s. During its peak period, it generally afflicted women in their 20’s and 30’s. After several attempts in the early 1950’s by a team of Australian doctors, as well as anthropologists, they failed to discover the cause. In the late 1950’s, an American pediatrician named Carleton Gajdusek came to Papua New Guinea to try and solve the mystery. With the use of microscopic examination of tissue from people who died of kuru, he was able to discover that the disease organism was carried in the blood and was concentrated in the brain tissue. Cannibalism was found to be the means of this transmission. As part of their funeral practices, the South Fore women ate their dead relatives, as well as fed it to their children. Men thought this was “unmanly” and preferred to eat their pigs. It was in the early 1960’s that cannibalism was outlawed in Papua New Guinea, which resulted in a dramatic drop of the kuru disease. However, between 1996 and 2004, 11 people were still diagnosed with kuru, but they were all born before 1950 and had contracted it before the end of cannibalism. What this meant was that the incubation period was at least 34-41 years in these cases.

Gajdusek, D., Daniel Carleton
1975 Bibliography of kuru...
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