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Kuru is a disease which affects the brain. It is endemic among the the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea and is universally fatal. It is characterized by headaches, joint pains and shaking of the limbs. It is believed to be caused by prions and is related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It is best known for the epidemic that occurred in Papua New Guinea in the middle of the twentieth century. The word kuru means "trembling with fear" in the language of the Fore people, those most commonly afflicted with the disease. Trembling is a symptom of dying brain tissue, and as such is present in almost all patients with transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.
Kuru was first noted in native peoples in the early part of the 1900s. It was in the 1950s that the full extent of the disease was realized, after it had reached large infection rates in the South Fore of the Okapa Subdistrict.
The disease spread easily in the Fore people due to the cannibalistic funeral practices of the culture, eating dead relatives as a sign of mourning. The dysmorphism evident in the infection rates -- it was more prevalent in women and children -- is due to the women eating the brain of the deceased, the most prion-rich tissue, and not just the meat. They would subsequently tend to and prepare meals for the children without disinfecting their hands.