What Is Laughing Death Disease (Kuru)?

Laughing Death Disease
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Laughter, they say is the best medicine. Over the years, people have been advised to laugh more often as laughter makes you look and feel younger. It is a sign of happiness when you see people smile and many times, this laughter is contagious.

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It is no breaking news that laughter has mental health benefits and it more we laugh the longer we live. But what happens when laughter becomes the end of human life? In this article, you will be learning about a rare medical condition known as Kuru.

The world has experienced the outbreak of quite some rare diseases. Some of the conditions that are rarely heard of are Alice in Wonderland syndrome, foreign accent syndrome, and the laughing death diseases.

If you missed our articles on Alice in Wonderland syndrome and the foreign accent syndrome, you should check it out.

Table of Contents

The history of Kuru

Some popular neurodegenerative prion protein diseases affect human beings. They include Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD), fatal familial insomnia (FFI), Gerstmann–Straüssler–Scheinker (GSS) disease, and the variant CJD (vCJD).

The laughing death disease is also a neurodegenerative prion protein disease, but it is unpopular because of its rarity. This disease is, however, as scary as its title “laughing death” also known as Kuru.

The laughing death disease was common among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea who practiced ritual cannibalism of their dead loved ones.

These people believed that the ritual eating of the corpse would set the spirit of their deceased family members free. The mental and intellectual wealth of a dead person was also believed to be transferred to those who partook of the ritual cannibalism.

Other forms of death from laughter can be as a result of asphyxiation or cardiac arrest. One of the people who died from laughing in ancient Greece was Chrysippus, but his death was not a result of the Kuru disease.

In the language of the fore tribe, the word “Kuru” has two different meanings “deterioration” and “trembling.” Because the patients were seen to wear a smile before death, the disease was nicknamed “laughing death”.

However, members of the fore tribe had a notion that an evil eye that was created by an Alien shaman was responsible for the laughing death disease.

Women and children mostly suffered from the kuru disease because they ate the brains of the dead during the ritual. Furthermore, Research on kuru formed the idea of transmissible prion disease in humans- spongiform encephalopathies.

What Are the Symptoms?

Kuru disease has three stages and is hardly diagnosed at the first stage. The first stage comes in the form of a headache and joint pain, slurring of speech and other symptoms that mimic a fever. However, symptoms worsen from the second stage.

The symptoms of the laughing death disease include coughing, a high body temperature, headache and fatigue, loss of coordination, muscle twitching, tremors, walking difficulties, running nose, trouble eating, Joint pain in victim’s leg, dementia, changes in mood and behavior of the victim.

Causes of the Kuru disease

As earlier stated, the laughing death disease is caused by ritual cannibalism among the fore locals of Papua New Guinea. The brains of the deceased that was consumed by mainly children and women contained the infectious agent prion. The men only ate the muscles of the corpse and had no reported case of kuru among them.

Furthermore, the laughing death disease does not begin to manifest on the body of a victim immediately the corpse is consumed. Kuru has an incubation period ranging from two to twenty years. More than a thousand cases of death from the laughing death disease have been recorded since it’s the first case.

Can the laughing death disease be inherited?

Someone in the early 1800s in Papua must have to be the first to have a contaminated brain and passed the kuru disease the those who engaged in ritual cannibalism of his or her corpse. Like other prion diseases, the laughing death disease can be transferred from parent to their offspring.

Who discovered the Kuru virus?

A young man called Michael Alpers first learned about the Kuru disease in the Adelaide Advertiser in the year 1957. After he graduated from medical school in 1961, he decided to take on an adventure to Papua New Guinea where he would discover the cause of the strange laughing death sickness that had plagued the Fore locals. Mr. Michael explained that he spent the first few months touring the area and making inquiries from the locals.

Mr. Michael was warmly welcomed, and in time the locals built him a house and provided him with a generator. Finding a cure for the laughing death disease was Michael Alpers’ primary concern, but he soon realized that the locals faced some other health challenges and they had little or no medical assistance.

Alpers soon set up a small clinic with the help of the locals. As at the time of his arrival in Guinea, most of the fore people suffered from a tropical ulcer. He began to treat them using penicillin, and they responded to treatment which made the locals more willing to assist the doctor the best was they could.

Because the laughing death disease was on the verge of wiping the fore people from the face of the earth, they became critical about finding a lasting solution to their problem. According to Mr. Alpers, the fore people assisted him both with domestic chores and medical work so that he could work better at finding the cause of the Kuru disease.

Furthermore, in early 1962, Mr. Alpers was opportune to meet Carleton Gajdusek, who was an American scientist that had been researching the kuru disease. Mr. Carleton Gajdusek was more particular about finding out whether the laughing death sickness was hereditary.

Mr. Alpers and the American scientist began to work together, and they were able to trace the cause of the virus to the consumption of the brains of deceased people during ritual cannibalism.

In a short while, the works Mr. Carleton and Alpers did on the kuru virus gained some recognition, but only Carleton was given a Nobel price. However, Mr. Carleton was soon jailed for child molestation.

Is there a cure for Kuru?

Sadly, the laughing death disease has no cure. However, the condition is almost extinct as the practice of ritual cannibalism has been abolished.

Laughing Death Disease
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Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.
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