Merck Manual

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Kuru

By

Brian Appleby

, MD, Case Western Reserve University

Medically Reviewed Nov 2022
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Kuru is a rare prion brain disease endemic to Papua, New Guinea, and thought to be spread by ritual cannibalism.

Although ritual cannibalism ended in the 1950s, 11 new cases of kuru have been reported between 1996 and 2004, suggesting an incubation period that may exceed 50 years.

Symptoms of kuru begin with tremors (resembling shivering) and ataxia. Movement disorders such as choreoathetosis, fasciculations, and myoclonus develop later, followed by dementia.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) testing does not appear to be useful. Few other test results have been reported. No diagnostic abnormalities have been identified in the PRNP gene of people with kuru. However, a PRNP gene variation that protects against prion disease has been identified in people in the Papua population who have not contracted kuru (1 General reference Kuru is a rare prion brain disease endemic to Papua, New Guinea, and thought to be spread by ritual cannibalism. (See also Overview of Prion Diseases.) Although ritual cannibalism ended in the... read more ). Autopsy can show typical PrPSc-containing plaques, with the greatest density in the cerebellum.

Death usually occurs within 2 years after symptoms begin; cause of death is usually pneumonia or infection due to pressure sores.

There is only supportive treatment for kuru.

General reference

  • 1. Asante EA, Smidak M, Grimshaw A, et al: A naturally occurring variant of the human prion protein completely prevents prion disease. Nature 522 (7557):478–481, 2015. doi: 10.1038/nature14510

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