Authorities in Canada are mystified by a strange, potentially deadly brain disorder that has surfaced and is afflicting more than 40 people in the New Brunswick province with memory loss and hallucinations.
The symptoms mimic those of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which is a rare and fatal brain disorder. Symptoms include muscle atrophy, memory loss, vision problems, jerking movements, and hallucinations. It seems to be confined to one area but more people are stepping forward that are displaying physical abnormalities consistent with the condition.
Earlier in the month, Canadian officials started ringing alarm bells in New Brunswick. They alerted doctors that they were monitoring a grouping of 43 cases of neurological disease and the cause was unknown. They have also urged the public not to panic after a leaked memo came to light concerning the terrifying disease.
“We are collaborating with different national groups and experts; however, no clear cause has been identified at this time,” the memo stated.
(Video Credit: Global News)
The first case popped up in the area back in 2015. Now, the number of cases has significantly increased, with 24 cases that were reported in 2020 alone. In 2021, six cases have been diagnosed so far. The disease has killed five people.
Originally, doctors thought this was Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It’s caused by prions, which are abnormally folded proteins. Tests have shot down that theory and right now they have no idea what is causing the disorder.
“There is no evidence, not a hint — even in the three autopsies that have been performed — of a human prion disease,” stated Dr. Neil Cashman, who is a professor at the University of British Columbia and is an expert on prion diseases. He is on the research team that is investigating the disease. “That came as a surprise to me, frankly.”
Investigative teams are rushing to determine the cause of the disorder. It is possible this is a new disease or several different disorders combined. “This was a call to arms to identify the cause,” Cashman declared.
The symptoms progress and are getting worse for patients over time. They become evident between 18 and 36 months. Individuals experience unexplained pains and spasms along with cognitive decline, teeth chattering, behavioral changes, and muscle wasting. The hallucinations include feeling insects crawling on their skin.
To be classified as a new case, an extensive study of the patient’s history is done. A battery of tests that include metabolic and toxicology tests, brain imaging, and spinal taps, are conducted to rule out other illnesses such as dementia, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, and potential infections.
The majority of cases have occurred in the Acadian Peninsula in northeast New Brunswick. Doctors suspect the ailment may be due to an environmental toxin.
“Some possible suspects include B-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) and domoic acid — both toxins that sometimes accumulate in fish and shellfish,” Cashman noted. But he also said that all of this is just speculation and finding the cause and treatment could take time.
“It’s possible ongoing investigations will give us the cause in a week, or it’s possible it will give us the cause in a year,” he noted.
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