The word “kuru” means death of mind or soul. It is caused by the brain cell wasting syndrome called Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (or CJD). This condition affects mainly those over 65 years old. The symptoms are similar to Alzheimer’s disease but it does not cause any memory loss.


Symptoms of kuru include:

– Loss of muscle control, especially in your legs and arms. You may lose all strength in these parts. Your hands may become cold and numb. When you move them, they do not respond properly; they twitch uncontrollably. Your feet will start to feel like ice cubes stuck under your toes.

These sensations can last for weeks or even months without any obvious reason.

– Severe depression. You may experience suicidal thoughts. You may have difficulty concentrating at work or school.

– Difficulty walking, speaking, eating and sleeping. The muscles of your face, neck and jaw begin to stiffen up. Your vision becomes blurry and you might see double when looking straight ahead or through a small opening in the wall (such as a door). Sometimes you may hear voices inside your head which tell you what to do or say.


The Creutzfeld Syndrome (or Creutzfeld Jakob Disease) is a rare fatal degenerative disease of the brain. The kuru virus attacks the brain, causing it to swell and leads to death. It is believed that kuru is caused by eating the brains of dead humans infected with the kuru virus (originated in people who practiced cannibalism in Papua New Guinea tribes). The disease was first discovered among the Fore people of the Eastern Highlands. It is also known as the laughing sickness because its victims would constantly laugh for no reason during its last stages.

The kuru infection was a major cause of death in the region before it was eliminated by a medical team sent by the World Health Organization in 1981. The organization provided care for patients and inoculated 90% of them against kuru. A local teacher, who had noticed a strong link between kuru and cannibalism among the tribes, is believed to be the source of information leading to the discovery that the infection could be transmitted by eating the brains of infected humans.


The main complication is death, which usually occurs within a year of the first symptoms showing.

There is no cure or vaccine for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. There are some drugs that can help your body fight the infection but they must be taken before symptoms start to show.

The current number of people with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the world is unknown.

The only way to prevent kuru and other similar diseases is to avoid eating human brains or other infected neural tissue.


1. “Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease”

2. “Kuru (Disease)”

3. “

What is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease?”

4. “

What is kuru?”

5. “

What are the symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease?”

6. “Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (CJD)”. World Health Organization.

7. “Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (prion disease)”.

Medline Plus.

NOTE: This page is sponsored by the United States Public Health Service and the NIH.

Last updated September 4th, 2013.

Sources & references used in this article:

Scrapie and kuru. by WJ Hadlow – Scrapie and Kuru., 1959 – cabdirect.org

Experimental transmission of a kuru-like syndrome to chimpanzees by DC Gajdusek, CJ Gibbs, M Alpers – Nature, 1966 – Springer

Unconventional viruses and the origin and disappearance of kuru by DC Gajdusek – Science, 1977 – JSTOR