• Mon. Jan 18th, 2021

There are mysterious diseases in the world, but Kuru, a disease that was characterized by maniacal laughter, was quite a strange one.  Laughing Death, as Kuru is commonly known, was limited to the tribal Fore people of New Guinea. The disease, which was characterized by abrupt bursts of maniacal laughter, hit the headlines in the 1950s and drew interest of doctors from all over the world.

Child with Kuru

U.S. and Australian doctors observed men and women with shaking limbs, which subsided with rest, but a month to three months later patients would begin to sway and stumble, lose the capability to stand, become cross-eyed and lose the power of coherent speech before eventually dying.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reported that tests on the deceased showed death had been caused by the emergence of holes in the brain, known as “swiss-cheesing.”

Eventually the U.S. physician Carleton Gajdusek worked out that the infection was being passed on through the village tradition of eating family members after death. When cannibalism was eliminated, the epidemic came to an end. In 1976, Gajdusek was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work.

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