61-Year-old man dies after contracting rare disease from eating squirrel brains

61-Year-old man dies after contracting rare disease from eating squirrel brains

They say that variety is the spice of life, but I think that you don't just have to think of spicy foods when adding variety to your diet. Everyone has their favourite foods, but it's important to try new foods when you get the chance. But one man in New York has tragically lost his life, after eating squirrel brains and contracting a rare and deadly disease.

In a rather bizarre case study, Live Science reports that a 61-year-old was brought into a hospital in Rochester, New York, in 2015. He'd suffered a rapid deterioration of his mental capacities and had lost touch with reality. By the time he was brought into care, he'd lost the ability to walk and speak by himself.

Brain scan Credit: Getty

Healthcare professionals were baffled, but an MRI scan revealed something they might not have picked up on otherwise. The results of the scan were pretty similar to the brain scans of people suffering from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), also known as 'mad cow disease' after a series of cases related to contaminated beef in the UK.

With most cases of vCJD being reported in those 80s and 90s and this being uptown New York, however, it was likely that contaminated burgers weren't to blame. Speaking to the man's family, they revealed that he liked to hunt, while also explaining that very recently, he'd eaten squirrel brains.

Dr Tara Chen is a medical resident at Rochester Regional Health, and was the lead author on a report on modern cases of vCJD. She didn't treat the man personally, but suspected that the man had either contracted the disease from the squirrel brains themselves, or from squirrel meat that was contaminated with squirrel brain.

Squirrel Credit: Getty

Speaking to LiveScience, Dr Chen explained that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) comes in one of three strains. This man suffered from an example of the variant or acquired type, where the disease is contracted from the environment. CJD can also be inherited, but there's also a strain which is "sporadic" - meaning without any environmental or genetic signals.

The National Institute of Health says that CJD in all of its forms is a "rare, degenerative, fatal brain disorder", infecting one in every one million people worldwide. In the United States, there are around 350 cases per year.

"CJD usually appears in later life and runs a rapid course. Typical onset of symptoms occurs at about age 60, and about 70 percent of individuals die within one year. In the early stages of the disease, people may have failing memory, behavioral changes, lack of coordination, and visual disturbances. As the illness progresses, mental deterioration becomes pronounced and involuntary movements, blindness, weakness of extremities, and coma may occur."

Squirrel Credit: Getty

The man died shortly after being diagnosed with vCJD, but Dr Chen are working to pick up the autopsy that would confirm the man actually contracted vCJD. If so, it's one of only five cases ever reported in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.