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Definition of «Kuru»

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Kuru: A slowly progressive fatal disease of the brain due to an infectious agent transmitted among people in Papua New Guinea by ritual cannibalism.

Kuru is an infectious form of subacute spongiform encephalopathy. It was once thought to be due to a slow virus but is now believed to be caused by a tiny protein particle called a prion. It appears to be similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or "mad cow disease") and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The disease causes a gait disturbance (cerebellar ataxia), incoordination, trembling and shivering. In time, difficulty in swallowing and feeding oneself leads to malnutrition. Death supervenes within several years of the onset of the disease. Kuru is also called trembling disease (kuru means trembling).

The discovery of kuru is one of the more interesting detective stories of 20th-century medicine. Dr. D. Carlton Gajdusek (1923-) first described the disease among the Fore people of New Guinea. It was known by them as kuru (meaning "trembling"). After years of living among the Fore people, Gajdusek came to the conclusion that the disease was transmitted in the ritualistic eating of the brains of the deceased, a Fore funeral custom. In 1976 Gajdusek shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for "discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases."

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