Bizarre neurological illness plagues young Canadians
Dozens of young people with no preexisting conditions are developing symptoms of a new disease as activists and families suspect a cover-up on the part of the local government.
A whistleblower with Vitalité Health Network in New Brunswick told The Guardian on Sunday that symptoms include hallucinations, difficulty thinking, limited mobility, insomnia, and rapid weight loss. Local government has reportedly struggled to dismiss the growing number of cases as Alzheimer’s or other neurological diseases uncommon outside the elderly.
While the official number of cases recorded since the mystery illness was first publicly acknowledged in early spring has not budged upward from 48, multiple sources told The Guardian that as many as 150 people may have contracted the fast-moving illness. Still more young people require assessment, and several have died.
“I’m truly concerned about these cases because they seem to evolve so fast,” the source told the outlet, acknowledging that “we owe them some kind of explanation.”
One of the more disturbing elements of the condition is how little is known regarding transmission. In at least nine cases, caretakers and others in close contact with sick individuals have developed similar symptoms to the ailing party, suggesting the illness not only spreads readily between unrelated individuals but that there may be environmental factors involved. Some have compared the illness to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain disease caused by misshapen proteins called prions, though screening reportedly produced no confirmed CJD cases.
The province has struggled to keep the cases under wraps – the case cluster only became public last year when a memo was leaked to the media, and the government has insisted the “cluster” itself is merely the result of “misdiagnoses” grouping unrelated illnesses together. Officials declared in October that eight fatal cases were due to “known and unrelated pathologies,” rather than a shared and unknown illness. An epidemiological report released in October supposedly ruled out any food, behavioral, or environmental exposure that could explain the problem.
However, another public health scientist who sought to remain anonymous suggested the government was covering something up. “The fact that we have a younger spectrum of patients here argues very strongly against what appears to be the preferred position of the government of New Brunswick – that the cases in this cluster are being mistakenly lumped together.”
Tim Beatty, whose father Laurie died with similar symptoms only to be posthumously declared an Alzheimer’s case, is attempting to have his father’s remains tested for neurotoxins, including β-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), a suspected trigger for the illness. The local economy relies heavily on lobster fishing, and the chemical can be found in high concentrations in lobster, according to a study cited by The Guardian. Beatty and other families who’ve lost loved ones to the mysterious illness have speculated that the government’s refusal to acknowledge the possible existence of the disease cluster in the region could be politically or economically motivated.
“If a group of people wanted to breed conspiracy theorists, then our government has done a wonderful job at promoting it,” Beatty told The Guardian. “Are they just trying to create a narrative for the public that they hope we’ll absorb and walk away from? I just don’t understand it.”