Medical and Science

Kuru Disease, Trembling with Fear

kuru disease micro organisms
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicensePhoto by  CodonAUG

Kuru is an incurable brain disease known only to a small tribe in the highlands of New Guinea. These small native tribes people are known as the Fore Tribe, and the word Kuru is translated to mean “Trembling with Fear“.
The interesting translation, Trembling with Fear, is related to the diseases key symptoms. It is accompanied by physical tremors and has an extremely high fatality rate. Once the Kuru disease has taken effect, it’s victims are sure to die within six to twenty-four months. Now this is a super fast fate folks, Kuru’s fatality rate makes it the most deadly disease known to man.
The kuru virus was first discovered in 1957. It’s possible it may of been around substantially longer than that, but some believe it hadn’t been around for very long before it was first discovered. Some of the Fore Tribe members state the Kuru disease wasn’t known to them as children, this suggests that it probably wasn’t around for more than 20 years by the time it was discovered.
The Fore were very isolated people, this is probably due to the mountainous terrain of the New Guinea, and according to records, there are no other reports of Kuru disease anywhere else in the world. It is probably a good thing they stayed isolated, or this could of easily become a wide spread epidemic.

What is Kuru Disease

Kuru is actually an infectious disease not caused by a virus, bacterium or parasite. Kuru was caused by what’s called prions. Prions are misshapen proteins which would cause other proteins in the body to lose their shape. It was quite similar to other prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, BSE also known as Mad Cow Disease, and scrapie. These are all well known TSE’s or Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies. To put it in easier terms, these diseases would essentially make the victim’s brain spongy and full of holes.


What Causes Kuru

Many believe that Kuru is a cannibal disease spread due to the Fore tribes cannibalistic funeral rites. Once a member of their tribe had died, they would be ritualistically dismembered by the female relatives. They would remove the arms, feet and brain. As well as ripping the muscle from their bones and would cut open the chest cavity and remove their internal organs. After the corpse was completely butchered they would cook and eat all the meat they’d accumulated, this included the brain. According to medical science, the brain is the most infectious organ of all.


The meat they had collected from the bodies was well treasured by the Fore. In fact the fat layers from the dead folk actually resembled pork and the men of the tribe were fed the best cuts. While the remains and brain were left for the women and children to feed on. Seeing how those parts were more likely to carry infection, this would explain why Kuru disease was more prevalent in women and children.


Not only were the women more apt to contract the disease because of the cuts of meat they were eating. But they were also responsible for dismembering the bodies. If any infection was present, they were more likely to catch something, by open sores or cuts and abrasions coming into direct contact with the infected flesh.


The effects from Kuru disease were quite dramatic and an epidemic quickly followed.


Symptoms of Kuru Disease

The first noticeable symptoms of kuru were headaches, joint pain, physical tremors and a gradual loss of motor skills. It was not uncommon for some victims to burst out into pathological fits of laughter as another side effect. As the kuru disease began to consume the victim, they would soon be unable to stand and would experience a great drop in appetite. This is why many infected Fore tribe members died due to starvation during the kuru epidemic.


Over 1,100 people died from kuru between 1957 and 1968, this was out of a population of only 8,000 tribe members. Of course there was no cure or treatment available to them, but eventually the disease had ran it’s course. After much effort from the Australian government and Christian missionaries, the Fore were talked out of continuing their ritualistic cannibalistic rituals.

Although Kuru was a horrific disease during it’s reign over the Fore tribe in New Guinea, it is no longer in existence. Then again, cannibalism is no longer as popular as it used to be either. There may still be some cannibalistic tribes out there some where, but let’s hope they keep their diseases to themselves.
Have you ever heard of Kuru Disease and Cannibalism? Or do you have any more information to share on trembling with fear, feel free to use the comments below.

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9 thoughts on “Kuru Disease, Trembling with Fear
  1. Never heard of this Kuru disease … feel really trembleing with fear…
    Hope someone has more helpful info to share.
    Any way, thank for sharing this post.

    1. Kuru is quite similar to Mad Cow Disease. But this draws one question in my mind. I wonder if that means the cows that people ate to acquire Mad Cow were in fact infected with the same prion disorder?

  2. What a strange name for a disease! 🙂 I’m used to hear some names with scientific meaning like “fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva” but not Kuru. Regards.

    1. haha, that’s very true, I guess given the geographic areas that were infected they tried to keep it simple. It’s not very well known outside of New Guinea.

  3. Similar to CJD, kuru is a progressive neurologic disorder that occurs primarily in the Fore natives who inhabit a tiny pocket of the New Guinea highlands. Symptoms are much like vCJD and include an exaggerated startle response and emotional instability, with pathologic bursts of laughter. Advanced states are characterized by dementia. In the terminal state, the patient is generally totally placid, mute and unresponsive.

    1. That is no doubt a nice quote, thanks for adding that into the discussion. 😉

  4. you are right, it is very tumbling disease for women. i have personal experience about it.

    1. Kuru Disease can be very bad, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had to experience this.

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