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Kuru Disease in Humans

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Kuru Disease: An Introduction

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Kuru disease is commonly found in people of New Guinea who practice cannibalism, a disease in which they eat the brains of dead people. It is also known as a laughing death disease because it can make people laugh until they die. This disease caused havoc in the early 1900s. At present, there is not any known case of this disease.

What is Kuru Disease?

Kuru disease is a highly lethal, rare, incurable, and neurodegenerative disease caused by abnormally folded proteins called prions. The word kuru means “shaking”, which is the main symptom of this disease.

Kuru Disease Symptoms and Signs

  • Difficulty in walking.

  • Headache.

  • Swallowing difficulty, also known as dysphagia, may lead to malnutrition.

  • Tremors and muscle jerks.

  • Loss of coordination.

  • Dysarthria means difficulty pronouncing words.

  • Secondary infections.

  • Abrupt obsessive laughing and crying.

Causes of Kuru Disease

  • The main causing agent of this disease is a prion, which is an abnormally folded protein.

  • Kuru disease relates to a class of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, also known as prions disease, that especially affects the cerebellum.

  • This disease can be caused by eating the brain of the infected brain or by coming in contact with an infected wound.

Diagnosis of Kuru Disease

  • Neurological Examination - This includes medical history, neurological function test, and blood test.

  • Electroencephalogram - This test is used to examine the brain's electrical activity.

Kuru Disease Treatment

  • There is not any successful treatment for the kuru disease.

  • Only by preventing the activity of cannibalism can we prevent this disease.

  • We can only give symptomatic treatment to relieve symptoms but can't cure the disease completely.

  • Stop people from eating brains.

Precaution to Stop Kuru Disease

Precaution to Stop Kuru Disease

Interesting Facts About Kuru Disease

  • The incubation period of kuru disease is 10-13 years.

  • Women and children are mostly affected by this disease because men are used to eating muscle components of the human body, while children and women are used to eating the brains of human corpses as a part of their ritual.

  • People can survive only for 6-12 months after the first symptom of this disease.

  • The last case of kuru was seen in 2006.

  • Kuru disease is also known as laughing death disease because this disease makes us laugh until we die, thus, leading to death.

Important Questions

  1. Why is there no successful treatment of Kuru?

Ans: Kuru disease is caused by prions, and it is very difficult to kill prions; they can't be easily destroyed. They can't even be killed with formaldehyde. Prions are not living organisms, so it is very difficult to kill them.

  1. Kuru disease is caused by which agent?

Ans: Kuru disease is caused by abnormally folded proteins known as prions. These infectious agents are only made up of protein without genetic material.

  1. What are prions?

Ans: Prions are abnormally folded proteins that can cause disease in humans and animals by activating normal healthy proteins in the brain to fold abnormally.


Kuru disease is a very rare disease caused by prions. Its average incubation period is 10-13 years, but in some cases, it may be 50 years or above. There is no known treatment for this disease, only inhibiting the practice of cannibalism can prevent the spreading of this disease. At present, there is not any known case of this disease; the last case was identified in 2006.

Practice Questions

Q1. What do prions do to humans?

Q2. What are examples of prions?

Q3. How do humans get kuru disease?

Q4. Are prions a living thing?

Q5. What is the difference between viroids and prions?

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FAQs on Kuru Disease in Humans

1. What is a laughing death disease?

A rare and incurable neurodegenerative disorder can make you laugh till you die. This disease is caused by prions and is also known as Kuru. Kuru, this condition was common among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea.  The Kuru term is derived from the foreword Kuria, meaning shaking, because of the body tremors that are a classic sign of this disease. It causes uncontrollable tremors, and a patient is prone to pathologic bursts of laughter.  And there is no cure for this disease.

2. What is the disease kuru caused by?

Kuru disease is caused by abnormally folded proteins known as prions, which can transmit their misfolded shape into normal variants of the same proteins. These prions are found in contaminated human brain tissue. The abnormal accumulation of protein in the brain can cause several abnormalities, such as personality changes, difficulty with movement, and memory impairment. Kuru belongs to the class of disease called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. Prions are only made up of proteins; genetic material such as DNA and RNA is absent in prions.

3. How do you get the Kuru disease?

Kuru disease is caused by prions that are found in the brain tissues of an infected person. This infective agent can pass from one person to another person by coming into contact with an infected wound or sores of a person infected with it. It can also spread by eating the brain of an infected person.  The practice of eating other members of the same species is known as cannibalism. This disease is mostly found in those people who practice the process of cannibalism.

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