Otherwise healthy adults in the Canadian province of New Brunswick develop debilitating symptoms. Dozens of young people who have no previous illnesses develop symptoms of a new disease. Scientists and families of the victims suspect a cover-up by the provincial government.
An informant from the Vitalité Health Network in New Brunswick, Canada reported the British Guardian on Sunday that symptoms include hallucinations, abnormal thinking, reduced mobility, insomnia, and rapid weight loss. According to reports, local authorities have made efforts to dismiss the growing number of cases as Alzheimer’s or other neurological diseases that only affect the elderly. While the official number of cases recorded since the mysterious disease became known in the spring has not exceeded 48, several sources told The Guardian that up to 150 people may have contracted the rapidly progressing disease. More young people need screening, and several have already died. “I’m really concerned about these cases because they seem to be developing so quickly,” the source told the newspaper, adding that they owe an explanation to those affected.
Unknown transmission route?
One of the most troubling elements of the disease is how little is known about its transmission. In at least nine cases, caregivers and other people who were in close contact with the sick developed symptoms similar to those of the sicksuggesting that not only does the disease spread easily between unrelated people, but that environmental factors may also play a role. Some have compared the disease to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a fatal brain disease caused by malformed proteins called prions, although research has reportedly not found confirmed cases of CJD. However, since this disease is localized, a specific local cause sounds plausible.
The provincial government has so far tried to keep the cases secret. The surge of cases was only revealed last year when a memo leaked to the media. However, the government has insisted that the “cluster” is simply the result of “misdiagnosis” that grouped unrelated diseases together. In October, authorities said eight deaths were due to “known and unrelated pathologies” rather than a common, unknown disease. An epidemiological report published in October allegedly excluded any food, behavioral or environmental exposure that could explain the problem.
However, another health scientist, who wanted to remain anonymous, suggested that the government was trying to cover something up. “The fact that we have a younger spectrum of patients here speaks very strongly against what the New Brunswick government seems to prefer – that the cases in this cluster are mistakenly lumped together.” Tim Beatty, whose father Laurie died with similar symptoms and was only posthumously declared an Alzheimer’s case, is attempting to examine his father’s remains for neurotoxins, including β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), a suspected cause of the disease leave. The local economy is heavily reliant on lobster fishing, and the chemical can be found in high concentrations in lobsters, according to a study cited by The Guardian.
Beatty and other families who have lost loved ones to the mysterious illness speculate that the government’s refusal to recognize the possible existence of the disease cluster in the region could be politically or economically motivated. “If there was a group of people who wanted to breed conspiracy theorists, our government did a wonderful job of promoting it,” Beatty told The Guardian. “Are they just trying to create a public narrative that they hope we will adopt and then just accept? I just do not understand.”