DOCTORS INVESTIGATE MYSTERY BRAIN DISEASE IN CANADACategory:
DOCTORS INVESTIGATE MYSTERY BRAIN DISEASE IN CANADA
Jessica Murphy, BBC News, Toronto
Doctors in Canada have been coming across patients showing symptoms similar to that of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare fatal condition that attacks the brain. But when they took a closer look, what they found left them stumped.
Almost two years ago, Roger Ellis collapsed at home with a seizure on his 40th wedding anniversary.
In his early 60s, Mr. Ellis, who was born and raised around New Brunswick’s bucolic Acadian Peninsula, had been healthy until that June and was enjoying his retirement after decades working as an industrial mechanic.
His son, Steve Ellis, says after that fateful day his father’s health rapidly declined. “He had delusions, hallucinations, weight loss, aggression, repetitive speech,” he says. “At one point he couldn’t even walk. So in the span of three months, we were being brought to a hospital to tell us they believed he was dying - but no one knew why.”
Roger Ellis’ doctors first suspected Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [CJD]. CJD is a human prion disease, a fatal and rare degenerative brain disorder that sees patients present with symptoms like failing memory, behavioral changes, and difficulties with co-ordination.
One widely known category is Variant CJD, which is linked to eating contaminated meat infected with mad cow disease. CJD also belongs to a wider category of brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS, in which protein in the nervous system becomes misfolded and aggregated.
But Mr. Ellis’ CJD test came back negative, as did the barrage of other tests his doctors put him through as they tried to pinpoint the cause of his illness.
In March of this year, the younger Mr. Ellis came across a possible - if partial - answer.
Radio-Canada, the public broadcaster, obtained a copy of a public health memo that had been sent to the province’s medical professionals warning of a cluster of patients exhibiting an unknown degenerative brain disease.
“The first thing I said was: ‘This is my dad,’” he recalls.
Roger Ellis is now believed to be one of those afflicted with the illness and is under the care of Dr. Alier Marrero.
The neurologist with Moncton’s Dr. Georges-L-Dumont University Hospital Centre says doctors first came across the baffling disease in 2015. At the time it was one patient, an “isolated and atypical case”, he says.
But since then, there have been more patients like the first - enough now that doctors have been able to identify the cluster as a different condition or syndrome “not seen before”.
The province says it’s currently tracking 48 cases, evenly split between men and women, in ages ranging from 18 to 85. Those patients are from the Acadian Peninsula and Moncton areas of New Brunswick. Six people are believed to have died from the illness.