According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a rare disease is classified as one that affects 200,000 people or less. When you think about it, that can cover such a broad number of diseases. The Kuru disease is on the top three of the list, but what is it exactly, and how does one contract it?
Kuru is a rare and incurable neurodegenerative disorder. One can get the disease by eating an infected brain or getting close contact with the open wounds of someone already infected. It is found among cannibal tribes in New Guinea.
What Causes Kuru?
The very rare disorder is caused by infectious tissue proteins found in a contaminated human brain. Kuru is commonly found among people from New Guinea, where cannibalism was practiced as part of a funeral ritual. The ritual was stopped in 1960, but new cases were reported even after the cessation of the ritual. This is because it can take years or even decades for symptoms to surface. The main risk factor is consuming human brains that may contain infectious tissue.
Kuru causes the brain and the nervous system to change, quite similar to the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Mad Cow Disease. (Source: Medline Plus)
What are the Symptoms of Kuru?
The symptoms of Kuru are quite similar to Parkinson’s Disease; poor coordination, difficulty walking, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, dementia, moodiness, tremors, and loss of motor skills. One of the identifying symptoms of Kuru is compulsive crying or laughing.
The disease occurs in three phases. It starts with joint pain and headaches, which are often missed or downplayed. In the first phase, the individual exhibits a loss of bodily control. They would have difficulty maintaining their posture and would notice how they are off-balance most of the time. By the second phase, they are unable to walk, and the tremors get worse and noticeable. In the third phase, the individuals are completely bedridden. In this phase, they lose their ability to speak. They also start to exhibit behavioral changes and memory loss.
Most Kuru infected individuals die due to secondary symptoms relating to the inability to move or function. They either die of starvation because they cannot eat and swallow or due to pneumonia. (Source: Healthline)
How is Kuru Diagnosed?
Kuru is diagnosed through a comprehensive medical examination. This involves several blood tests, neurological function tests, and extensive medical history.
One of the neurological tests performed is the electroencephalogram (EEG) is used to examine brain activity through electrical impulses. Brain scans may also be used, but they may not be as helpful in making a definitive diagnosis. (Source: Healthline)
How Can You Prevent and Treat Kuru?
As mentioned, Kuru is extremely rare. It can only be contracted through exposure to Kuru prions. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the disease is almost gone. With cannibalism rituals discouraged, by the mid-20th century, cases have gone down exponentially.
For individuals who have contracted Kuru, the disease is incurable. Only palliative care is possible. (Source: Healthline)