Mad squirrel disease? Man dies after eating brains

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A 61-year-old man was brought to a hospital in Rochester, New York, after experiencing a decline in his thinking abilities and losing touch with reality. The man had also lost the ability to walk on his own.

According to FOX News, an MRI of the man’s head revealed a striking finding: The brain scan looked similar to those seen in people with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a fatal brain condition caused by infectious proteins called prions. Only a few hundred cases of vCJD have ever been reported, and most were tied to consumption of contaminated beef in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s. (In cows, vCJD is commonly called “mad cow disease.”)

But in this case, they suspected another source. The man was a hunter and he regularly consumed squirrel. Including, it is suspected, their brains, or meat contaminated with brain matter.

It wasn’t the first case of vCJD in the area although it took a while for doctors to link cases as vCJD is so rare. Quick diagnosis of CJD is important, because infectious prions could contaminate equipment used on patients with the disease, and this might transmit the condition to others if the equipment is not properly cleaned.