Kuru disease, also known as cannibalism disease or laughing sickness, is an extremely rare and fatal brain disease first discovered by anthropologists studying the native Fore populations of New Guinea in the early 1950s. According to the National Institutes of Health, kuru is classified under the rubric of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, also known as prion diseases.
How It Spreads
While cannibalism, or more specifically the ingestion of human tissues or organs infected with kuru disease, is often thought to be the sole means of transmission of the disease, it can also be passed through exposure to the open wounds of infected individuals.
During stage one of cannibalism disease, also called the ambulant stage, general coordination begins to deteriorate. The patient may experience symptoms such as an unsteady gait, shaking or shivering, slurred speech and "twitching" eyes. in general, failing coordination begins in the feet, legs and hands and slowly moves upward.
The second stage of kuru disease, or the sedentary stage, is defined by a worsening of stage one symptoms that prevent the patient from walking without support, ataxia or loss of muscle coordination and severe muscle jerking. Additionally a new set of symptoms begins, including depression, fits of laughter and failing mental capacity.
The third stage of cannibalism disease is the terminal stage. At this point the symptoms include an inability to sit upright without support, fecal and urinary incontinence, trouble swallowing and eventually coma and death.
Progression of Symptoms
The incubation period of kuru or cannibalism disease is very long, meaning a person infected with the disease may not begin to experience symptoms for years or even decades. There is no known treatment for kuru disease. Once a patient begins to experience symptoms, death occurs within 6 to 12 months.
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