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November 18, 1968


JAMA. 1968;206(8):1784-1785. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03150080064016

Since Gajdusek and Zigas1 first described the disease in 1957, kuru has occasioned much painstaking research and a great deal of interest and speculation. Yet kuru's etiology has remained even more mysterious than the highland regions of New Guinea where the disease is found. Recently, researchers have suggested that cannibalism plays a role in transmission of this obscure disorder.

Kuru attacks children of both sexes and women; practically no adult males are affected. Onset is slow, without noticeable prodromata. Death occurs in nearly all cases, and usually within a year of onset. Pathologically, the disease is an apparently unique form of cerebellar degeneration. The symptoms are those of increasing incoordination, ataxia, dysarthria, varied tremors, and emotional lability.2 There is no sensory disturbance.

This remarkable disease seems to have been infrequent two to three generations ago, although this point will probably never be certain. Kuru is limited to a