Article ID: CBB001421857

Discovery of Kuru Revisited: How Anthropology Hindered Then Enhanced Kuru Research (2013)


Kuru has probably spawned more papers and books than any other uncommon disease, and produced two Nobel laureates. This rapidly progressive and inevitably fatal neurological condition occurred only among people in the Okapa area of Papua New Guinea. It had an extraordinarily long incubation period. Genealogical studies determined that kuru probably appeared in the first decade of the twentieth century and was spread by cannibalism. This paper reviews the chronological sequence of the earliest reports of kuru and documents how early fixation on sorcery as the mechanism for the illness diverted attention from a medical description and discovery of the mode of transmission of the disease. A multidisciplinary approach by anthropologists, epidemiologists and microbiologists finally led to the elucidation of its aetiology. Only three thousand cases have been documented and there have been no cases reported since 2009. Keywords Kuru, Papua New Guinea, Anthrpology, Medical history

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Authors & Contributors
Seguin, Eve
Cherici, Céline
Spark, Ceridwen
Wolters, Christine
Toygar, Hilal Uslu
Guzeldemir, Esra
Science as Culture
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Health and History
Journal of the History of Dentistry
British Journal for the History of Science
Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity
Franz Steiner Verlag
Harvard University
Ohio State University
University of Western Ontario (Canada)
Edizioni ETS
Disease and diseases
Medicine and science, relationships
Neurological diseases
Alpers, Michael P.
Oliveras de la Riva, Carlos
Stoller, Robert J.
Papua New Guinea
Great Britain
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
Early modern
University of California, Los Angeles

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