Condition 101 About Kuru

What is the definition of Kuru?

Kuru is a disease of the nervous system.

What are the alternative names for Kuru?

Prion disease - kuru

What are the causes for Kuru?

Kuru is a very rare disease. It is caused by an infectious protein (prion) found in contaminated human brain tissue.

Kuru is found among people from New Guinea who practiced a form of cannibalism in which they ate the brains of dead people as part of a funeral ritual. This practice stopped in 1960, but cases of kuru were reported for many years afterward because the disease has a long incubation period. The incubation period is the time it takes for symptoms to appear after being exposed to the agent that causes disease.

Kuru causes brain and nervous system changes similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Similar diseases appear in cows as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also called mad cow disease.

The main risk factor for kuru is eating human brain tissue, which can contain the infectious particles.

What are the symptoms for Kuru?

Symptoms of kuru include:

  • Arm and leg pain
  • Coordination problems that become severe
  • Difficulty walking
  • Headache
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Tremors and muscle jerks

Difficulty swallowing and being unable to feed oneself can lead to malnutrition or starvation.

The average incubation period is 10 to 13 years, but incubation period of 50 years or even longer have also been reported.

What are the current treatments for Kuru?

There is no known treatment for kuru.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Kuru?

Death usually occurs within 1 year after the first sign of symptoms.

When should I contact a medical professional for Kuru?

See your health care provider if you have any walking, swallowing, or coordination problems. Kuru is extremely rare. Your provider will rule out other nervous system diseases.



Bosque PJ, Tyler KL. Prions and prion diseases of the central nervous system (transmissible neurodegenerative diseases). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 181.

Geschwind MD. Prion diseases. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 94.

Top Global Doctors For Kuru

Pawel P. Liberski
Lodz, LD, PL
John C. Collinge
London, ENG, GB
Simon H. Mead
London, ENG, GB
Beata Sikorska
Lodz, LD, PL

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