Kuru in New Guinea

The article that I found using pubmed discuss all the major forms of the group of disease which Kuru falls into which are called spongiform encephalopathies. The major forms included: Sporadic Cruetzfeldt-Jacob disease (spCJD), fatal familial insomnia (FFI), sporadic fatal insomnia (sFI), familial or genetic CJD (f/g CJD), Iatrogenic CJD (iCJD), Kuru, new variant CJD (vCJD), and variably protease-sensitive. These spongiform encephalopathies use an infectious protein called a prion as the agent for the diseases. Not much is known about these sort of diseases. The article does state that prions appear because something has caused a protein to misfold into a much more stable from. Once they appear prions are so stable destroying them is impossible. Sometimes the damage caused goes unnoticed until much later in life. In the culture-bound syndrome (CBS) Kuru, the spongiform encephalopathy affects mainly children and women.
In the native cultures of Papau New Guinea they believed that in order to show respect to a person who has died the entire tribe much gather for a celebration in which they eat the body of the lost comrade. Men are allowed first pick at the cuts of meat and often select the lean muscle portions of the corpse. This leaves the fatty organs such as the intestines, liver, and nervous tissue for the women and children. Because there was no capability to have a cause of death determined so of the dead bodies could had already been inflicted with Kuru. Since the women were stuck eating the tissue that contained high levels of fat which was where this protein often occurs the women and children had a high risk of getting the disease.
Because this disease is often found in the brain there is not for sure way to test for the illness unless the individual is dead so that an autopsy can be performed. Since the prion protein is view difficult to destroy or remove, currently there is no cure for Kuru except for ending the cycle of cannibalism that started the problem. Presently work is being done around to world to figure out a way to reverse the misfolding of prion proteins, denature the protein or to get rid of it completely.

Article: Overview of Human Prion Diseases

1 thought on “Kuru in New Guinea

  1. I believe this CBS is definitely something that is culture-bound. In many other places of the world, cannibalism is completely illegal and looked down on as savage behavior. However, I’m a strong believer in relative morality and the people in this culture are only acting how their culture has taught them. They have no concept that this act is “bad”, in fact, not showing respect by eating the body sounds like it may be looked on as “bad” in their culture. Because of this, we should show respect for their customs, even if it is not something we were think of in our own culture.

    However, because it is a cultural custom that allows Kuru to be so prevalent among the natives, I believe it is definitely a culture-bound syndrome. In the United States, if this disease occurred often, it may not be identified as a CBS due to the fact that cannibalism is illegal. It may actually be looked at as a form of mental illness and simply dismissed because those infected are just “crazy”. I believe that cannibalism is not beneficial for our culture, but we should not judge those of Papau New Guinea because this is a way of life for them. However, if there were a way to prevent Kuru without disrupting their cultural beliefs, perhaps through studying the disease and gaining a better understanding of how to stop the disease from spreading, that would be ideal.

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