“You don’t like to call your friends cannibals”

The Global Mail has a profile of Professor Michael Alpers, a medical professional who investigated kuru among the Fore for almost three decades.

Professor Michael Alpers, photo by Tony Ashby

There have only been eight deaths attributed to kuru in this century and it’s thought that those were the result of incubation periods near fifty years in length.  That extended incubation period is worrisome far beyond New Guinea, as kuru is closely related to the “mad cow” outbreak of the 1990s. So little is known about the disease that people who may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob during that period cannot donate blood via the American Red Cross (that includes me, as I was on a US military base that may have used tainted beef).