Some 48 cases of a strange degenerative brain disease have been reported in Canada’s New Brunswick province, with researchers struggling to uncover the cause of the malady, the BBC reports.
The cases of the disease that are currently being tracked by New Brunswick are “evenly split” among men and women aged between 18 and 85, the media outlet notes, with the patients coming from the Acadian Peninsula and Moncton areas of the province; the disease was apparently encountered by doctors for the first time in 2015.
Steve Ellis, son of one of the afflicted, explained that his father’s health started declining rapidly after he collapsed in a seizure back in 2019.
"He had delusions, hallucinations, weight loss, aggression, repetitive speech", Steve said, describing the symptoms his father Robert displayed. "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".
The doctors who treated Robert initially suspected that he was suffering from a fatal brain disorder known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but his test for it – as well as a "barrage of other tests his doctors put him through" in a bid to determine the cause of his affliction – came back negative.
The symptoms exhibited by the patients reportedly include “behavioral changes like anxiety, depression and irritability, along with unexplained pain, muscle aches and spasms”. The afflicted can also develop severe insomnia, “fast-advancing language impairments”, rapid weight loss and muscle atrophy, and even experience hallucinatory dreams or waking auditory hallucinations.
Some even experienced a psychiatric disorder in which the afflicted would start regarding a person close to them as an impostor.
"It's quite disturbing because, for instance, a patient would tell his wife: 'Sorry ma'am you cannot get in bed, I'm a married man' and even if the wife gives her name, he'd say: 'You're not the real one'", said Dr Alier Marrero, neurologist at Moncton's Dr Georges-L-Dumont University Hospital Centre.
At this time, no treatment for the disease reportedly exists, other than “helping to alleviate the discomfort of some of the symptoms”.
While researchers have already come up with several possible causes of the disease – such as, for example, “a toxic element acquired in the environment of this patient that triggers the degenerative changes”, as Dr Marrero put it - neurologist Dr Neil Cashman of the University of British Columbia argued that the existing list of theories cannot be regarded as complete.
"We have to go back to first principles, go back to square one", he said. "At this point basically nothing can be excluded".