Squirrel meat may have given man a horrifying, fatal brain disease
| Ed Cara, Gizmodo – An upstate New York hunter might have caught one of the most frightening brain diseases around in one of the strangest ways possible—eating squirrel meat contaminated with zombie-like proteins
The 61-year-old man had been admitted to Rochester Regional Hospital with cognitive impairment, schizophrenia, and psychosis in 2015; he was also unable to walk under his own power.
But there was nothing to be done. Five months after his symptoms began, he died.
Judging by his brain scans and other tests, the man had likely come down with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a form of the rare and universally fatal neurodegenerative ailment.
CJD is one of several diseases that are caused by a kind of protein known as a prion. Prions exist naturally in the brain and are seemingly harmless to us.
But when these proteins start to fold in ways they shouldn’t, they force other nearby prions to misfold too, creating a growing army that, over years or even decades, effectively cannibalizes the brain. (Story continues below … )
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Prion diseases can happen spontaneously or be passed down through families. But they can also be infectious, and some are even capable of spreading between different species of animals.
The authors of the report, led by medical resident Tara Chen, incidentally came across the case, not having treated the man himself.
They began digging through hospital records after seeing four suspected cases of CJD crop up within the span of six months last winter—an unusually high number for a rare disease that affects about 350 people in the entire country annually.
Of the five cases detailed in their report, however, two were eventually confirmed not to be CJD after all.
Though current tests can distinguish vCJD from the classical form of the disease, Chen told Live Science that it’s unknown whether the man was definitively diagnosed with CJD. Read more.
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