An Interactive Annotated World Bibliography of Printed and Digital Works in the History of Medicine and the Life Sciences from Circa 2000 BCE to 2022 by Fielding H. Garrison (1870-1935), Leslie T. Morton (1907-2004), and Jeremy M. Norman (1945- ) Traditionally Known as “Garrison-Morton”

15951 entries, 13922 authors and 1934 subjects. Updated: November 30, 2023


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Kuru and cannibalism.

Lancet, 292, 449-452., 1968.

Medical anthropologists Lindenbaum and Glass demonstrated that Kuru was transmitted in New Guinea by cannibalism--particularly by eating the brains of infected victims, which were the reservoir of prions. Order of authorship in the original publication was Matthews, Glasse, Lindenbaum.

"Lindenbaum and Glasse discovered that the Fore people partook in a ritual called mortuary cannibalism, where kin honored the dead by feasting on their cooked bodies. People avoided eating kin who died of dysentery and leprosy, but did not shy away from eating people who died of kuru. Through oral histories, it was determined that the kuru epidemic had begun among the northernmost Fore at the turn of the century, some time in the 1890s. It is now presumed that a spontaneous case of Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease (like kuru, a prion-related disorder) occurred at that time. When that person died and was consumed by kin, the kuru epidemic spread further south. Lindenbaum and Glasse noted also that the geographic spread of kuru closely matched the practice of mortuary cannibalism throughout this region, providing substantial evidence that cannibalism was the mode of transmission. Moreover, the research team noted that women and children were primarily impacted by kuru, which matched with the participants in this tradition. Men were less likely than women to partake in mortuary cannibalism, and when they did, they were less likely to eat women. As a result, men were less likely to get kuru compared to women and children.[2] Professor Lindenbaum's work was originally resisted by genetic and biomedical researchers who insisted the disease was likely genetic and non-infectious" (Wikipedia article on Shirley Lindenbaum, accessed 6-2019.)

(Thanks to Juan Weiss for this reference and its interpretation.)

Subjects: ANTHROPOLOGY › Medical Anthropology, COUNTRIES, CONTINENTS AND REGIONS › Papua New Guinea, INFECTIOUS DISEASE › Prion Diseases