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Thursday, February 09, 2012


I was recently pointed to another real disease that has some bizarre similarities to zombies.  During her scholarly studies, my friend Nikki Basset stumbled upon kuru, and passed the disease to me... figuratively.

Kuru is a rare disease that affects the nervous system, it's also a fun word to say.

The case that kuru is known for is very interesting.  It's very similar to a zombie outbreak, only backwards.  While we're used to the spread of zombies caused by dead humans eating living brains, this case involves living humans eating dead brains.

Back in the day, the Fore Tribe of Papua New Guinea would eat the bodies of the dead (including the brain) as part of the funeral process.  I know, it sounds like a completely safe practise, but it turns out human brain tissue can contain an infectious protein which causes kuru.

Supposedly the funeral ritual stopped around 1960, but cases of kuru still popped up years later because of the long incubation period of the disease, which can last anywhere from 5 to 20 years.

The disease is kind of like mad cow for humans.  Once a person has kuru, they will go through 3 stages.

In the first stage, the person will have a hard time balancing and slurred speech.  The second stage makes it extremely hard to walk, and causes severe muscle tremors.  In the final stage, the infected will have no muscle coordination, they won't be able to speak, and they won't be at all responsive to their surroundings.

But unlike a zombie, the strangest effect of kuru is that it causes the infected to laugh uncontrollably.

Album cover for House Cannibal by Kuru.

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