The Fifth Estate: Canadian discusses suffering from 'mystery illness'

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It is believed to be a progressive neurological condition that presents in young people, and can cause “swift cognitive decline” in a “growing number” of otherwise healthy youngsters. An employee with Vitalité Health Network, one of the area’s health authorities, said suspected cases are spreading, and often those identified will not have any underlying health issues.

Symptoms include dramatic weight loss, hallucinations, insomnia, and a tough time thinking, as well as reduced mobility.

Currently, 48 cases of the illness are being investigated by health authorities, but this number has remained constant since the condition was originally identified in spring 2021.

Various sources claim this number could be as high as triple this figure.

The whistleblower told The Guardian: “I’m truly concerned about these cases because they seem to evolve so fast.

“I’m worried for them and we owe them some kind of explanation.”

The anonymous employee added that “this is not a New Brunswick disease,” raising the possibility that it could be found elsewhere.

They continued: “We’re probably the area raising the flag because we’re mostly rural and in an area where people might have more exposure to environmental factors.”

The whistleblower requested anonymity for fear of the consequences of speaking to the media, but “they decided to come forward because of growing concerns over the speed with which young people have deteriorated”.

It was reported that at least nine cases of the illness have been noted in which people in close proximity, rather than genetically related, developed symptoms.

One suspected case includes a woman in her thirties, who feeds from a tube, and her carer, a nursing student in her twenties.

The Guardian added that the latter recently began to display signs of cognitive decline.

In other suspected cases, a young woman began to hallucinate after rapidly shedding almost 60 pounds, with brain scans showing advanced atrophy.

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News of the illness broke in the area around New Brunswick last year after a memo was leaked to the media about efforts to work out what the new mystery illness was, and how it developed.

The memo instructed healthcare professionals in the vicinity to watch out for symptoms similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, caused by infectious proteins in the brain.

The memo read: “We are collaborating with different national groups and experts; however, no clear cause has been identified at this time.”

Dr Alier Marrero, the neurologist heading New Brunswick’s investigation into the illness, said at the time that the medical professionals working to understand the advance of the symptoms were baffled.

He said: “We don’t know what is causing it.

“At this time we only have more patients appearing to have this syndrome.”

An unnamed scientist at the Canadian public health agency told The Guardian in an update that the age of the patients presenting symptoms of neurological decline was particularly worrying.

They said: “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.”

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