Kuru is a degenerative nerve disease from which there is no cure. It occurs in the region of Papua New Guinea. It is a species of infectious spongiform encephalopathy. A prion, an infectious protein found in humans is the cause of this disease. It is locally known as the “laughing sickness” as those affected with this disease are prone to pathologic bursts of laughter. The main cause of kuru is the practice of cannibalism during funerals of the people of the Fore tribe who used to eat the brains of dead people. Although this practice was generally discontinued in the 1960s, the disease continued to proliferate due its long incubation period.
The neurological and psychological symptoms of kuru end with death. The onset of this disease is marked by loss of control over the muscles of the body, pain in the joints, headaches and tremors due to which another name of this disease is ‘shiver’.
Regular physical neurological tests for reflexes and muscular coordination are usually conducted for the diagnosis of kuru. The ability to walk in a straight line is also evaluated. There are no laboratory tests done for the detection of kuru. A doctor will simply conduct physical, neurological tests and by ruling out the possibility of other neurological disorders, the diagnosis of kuru is taken to be positive.
There is no cure for kuru. Although the advancement of the disease cannot be arrested or reversed, regular treatment which is used for alleviating symptoms of other types of neurological disorders has been found to provide some relief to kuru patients.
Kuru is a fatal disease which results in death within one to two years from the start of the initial symptoms.
Since this is a disease largely caused by cannibalism, the only remedy to this disease is to discourage the people of the Fore Tribe from indulging in cannibalism. As there is no treatment available for kuru, similarly, there is no means of prevention of the disease.
There are no documented details about the cost of treatment for kuru patients due to the remote and primitive environment in which this disease manifests itself.