Canadian doctors fear they are dealing with a brain disease hitherto unknown due to a series of cases involving memory loss, hallucinations and muscle atrophy.
Canada’s public health authorities have been tracking for over a year 43 cases suspected neurological disease with no known cause in the province of New Brunswick.
According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the investigation was only known last week, when a note from the public health agency was released asking doctors to be attentive to symptoms similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – a rare and fatal brain disease caused by deformed proteins known as prions.
“We are collaborating with different groups and national experts. However, no clear cause has been identified at this time, ”read the memo.
A number of symptoms, including memory loss, vision problems e abnormal sudden movements triggered an alert with Canada’s CJD surveillance network. Despite the initial similarities, the screening did not produce any confirmed case of CJD.
“We have no evidence to suggest that it is a prion disease,” he said. Alier marrero, a neurologist who led the New Brunswick investigation.
Now, a team of researchers, including federal scientists, are racing against time to determine whether they are dealing with an unknown neurological syndrome or a range of unrelated but previously known and treatable diseases.
Marrero said that patients initially complained of unexplained pain, spasms e behavior changes – all symptoms that could easily be diagnosed as anxiety or depression.
However, over the course of 18 to 36 months, they began to develop cognitive decline, loss of muscle mass, salivation e chattering teeth. Several patients also started to have hallucinations.
In order for a new case to be included in this group of cases, Marrero and the team carry out an extensive study of the patient’s history, as well as a battery of tests, including brain images, metabolic and toxicological tests and lumbar puncture, to rule out other possible diseases, such as dementia, neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune diseases and possible infections.
Only a single suspicious case was reported in 2015, but in 2019, there were 11 cases and 24 in 2020. Scientists believe that five people died of the disease.
“We haven’t seen in the last 20 years or so a group of neurological diseases resistant to diagnosis like this,” he said. Michael Coulthart, head of Canada’s CJD surveillance network.
Most cases are linked to the Acadian peninsula, a sparsely populated region in the northeastern part of the province. The overall number of cases remains low, but New Brunswick has a population of less than 800,000 people.
A growing team of researchers is working to determine whether there is a common link between cases or any environmental causes, including water sources, plants and insects.
“We don’t know what is causing this,” said Marrero. “At the moment, we only have more patients who seem to have this syndrome.”
The news of the unknown disease caused concern, but experts warned against drawing premature conclusions.
“I really don’t know if we have a definite syndrome. There is simply not enough information yet, ”he said. Valerie Sim, a neurodegenerative disease researcher at the University of Alberta.
The scientist noted that the main markers for degenerative neurological diseases have not been documented and that the wide range of symptoms in the group was “atypical” for most brain diseases. At the same time, certain types of cancer, insanity or wrong diagnoses may explain the extent of the symptoms.
Maria Campos, ZAP //