The Last Laughing Death

We would tell you that this extensive Global Mail feature on the end of a fifty-year study of kuru among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea is “everything you want to know about kuru, but that would presume your interest in the social and scientific aspects of kuru is capable of being satisfied:

When Alpers put his data together for a presentation in Washington in 1967 “the argument for cannibalism — and I don’t use that term anymore, but it was used then — was compelling. Everything fitted. Why did women and children get the disease? Because they were the ones that carried out the practice — the men didn’t. It explained why it was dying out in young children — because the kiaps had proscribed cannibalism. You could also conclude that the disease was not being transmitted vertically from mother to child. No one born since 1960 was coming down with kuru. The penny dropped”.

Richard Rhodes’ Deadly Feasts is a must-read if you’re at all interested in prion diseases, but perhaps not if you are also interested in sleeping through the night without wondering if your brain is going to turn into Swiss cheese unexpectedly at some point in your life?

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