Kuru is a nerve disease that slowly gets worse. It is due to an infectious protein (prion) found in contaminated human brain tissue.
Kuru is an extremely rare disease. It is almost exclusively found among people from New Guinea, who practiced a form of cannibalism in which the brains of dead people were eaten as part of a funeral ritual.
Kuru causes neurodegenerative changes similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease Similar diseases appear in cows as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also called mad cow disease.
The main risk factor for kuru is eating human brain tissue, which can contain the infectious particles.
Symptoms of kuru include:
- Coordination problems, eventually become severe
- Difficulty walking (cerebellar ataxia)
- Swallowing difficulty
- Tremors and muscle jerks
Difficulty swallowing and inability to feed oneself lead to malnutrition or starvation.
The time it takes until symptoms develop (incubation period) can be up to 30 years or longer.
Exams and Tests
A neurological exam may show changes in coordination and walking ability.
There is no known treatment for kuru.
Death usually occurs within 1 year after the first sign of symptoms.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have any walking, swallowing, or coordination problems. Kuru is extremely rare. Your doctor will rule out other neurological diseases.
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