Cannibalism is a very strange concept. Why would people want to eat other people? Well for the people of New Guinea, it is a religious act. During funeral services the Fore people in New Guinea “prepared and consumed the tissues (including brain) of deceased family members.” Cannibalism is a disturbing act, but besides it being somewhat uncivilized, are there health risks to it?
According to the epidemic levels of Kuru in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the consumption of human muscle and brain can be very dangerous, especially if the deceased has Kuru. Kuru is described as “an extremely rare and fatal nervous system disease.” If the deceased has Kuru, and then a healthy person consumes their brain or comes in contact with a wound, they are likely to contract Kuru. Kuru causes “abnormal proteins” to be produced that are called prions. Prions cause tumor like masses to form on the brain. In addition to these deformed proteins being produced, Kuru can also cause healthy proteins to copy the shapes of the deformed proteins, causing the masses on the brain to increase, further harming the patient.
Kuru has many different symptoms to it. A person with Kuru would likely have difficulty walking, poor coordination, trouble swallowing, slurred speech, and any symptom that could be related to neurological damage. The problem with Kuru is that it is slow moving, making it very difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, to diagnose Kuru a series of neurological tests have to be done, and in underdeveloped areas this is difficult to do. Also, since the disease progresses slowly it is hard for patients to recognize the symptoms. Many cases of Kuru are not discovered until the person has died.
If by some miracle a patient is correctly diagnosed, there is still no treatment for the disease. The only type of recommendation a physician could make would be to stop participating in cannibalism. Most people who contract Kuru “die in a comatose state within six to twelve month after experiencing initial symptoms.” This does not mean that it is months after contraction a person will die. This means that after years of having the disease, and symptoms finally begin to show, the patient will most likely die in a matter of months. The disease does not cause a problem for many years but, once it does the body is ravished by it.
Overall, my take on cannibalism remains unchanged. Not only is it an inhumane practice, but it is also a deadly one. While some cultures embrace the ritual, it should be avoided due to possible disease contraction such as Kuru.