Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The rise and fall of kuru

Historical research carried out by Michael Alpers (see below) on the Fore suggests that the epidemic may have originated around 1900 from a single individual who lived on the edge of Fore territory, who is thought to have spontaneously developed Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

Cannibalism, and possibly other funeral practices then led this single case to become an epidemic.

When cannibalism was outlawed in the 1950's Kuru began to decline although cases continued to appear for several decades more - suggesting a potentially very long incubation period.

The last kuru sufferer died in 2005 and active field surveillance was continued until 2010. It appears that Kuru has died out and the epidemic is finally over.

In recent years scientists have been studying the survivors of the Kuru epidemic and have found that some individuals have a strong genetic resistance to the disease. This could be very valuable in suggesting treatments for other prion diseases.

"Kuru comes from the same disease family as CJD, so the discovery of this powerful resistance factor opens up new areas for research taking us closer to understanding, treating and hopefully preventing of a range of prion diseases."

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