November 23, 2012
Kiru, the "Laughing Death"
The Last Laughing Death
After 55 years, the final patrol for cases of the mysterious ‘laughing death’ in remote Papua New Guinea has returned from the highlands. From this pursuit came Nobel-winning science, clues to ‘mad cow’ and insights into Alzheimer’s disease. It also revealed a little bit of cannibal hidden in us all.
Posted by Jill Fallon at November 23, 2012 1:14 PM
Everyone understood too well that no-one recovered from kuru, which progressively stole control, mobility, speech but, tragically, not always faculty from the afflicted. Bursting into gales of uncontrollable laughter was another cruel quirk of the disease.
There have been just eight kuru cases this century — three in 2000, two in 2001, one each in ’03 and ’05, and the last in 2009. In each case, it is believed the victim had incubated the disease for an astonishing 50 years or more, having been exposed to infection as a child when participating in mortuary feasts that were an intrinsic part of Fore culture: that is, the cooking and consumption of the dead, every last piece of them, in order to hasten the journey of the departed loved-ones to the land of the ancestors.