A new report says that a hunter in Rochester, New York, could have developed an extremely rare brain infection after eating the brains of squirrels he'd killed after LiveScience.
The report was presented at the ID (Infectious Disease) Week conference as a summary entitled "Towards the Earlier Diagnosis of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs): A Case Series, Including One Using Squirrel Brain Consumption."
The report unveiled identified a 61-year-old man who was diagnosed with the rare brain infection called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease after he had eaten squirrel brains. He was hospitalized after experiencing problems with thinking and an impaired gait, according to the report. He died about five months after the infection was diagnosed in 201
The disease resembles "mad cow disease", which tiny holes fill the brain until the tissue looks like a sponge (where is spongiform "coming off," according to the National Institutes of Health.
The infection is always fatal, and most who get the disease live for about a year, causing rapid degeneration of memory, thinking, vision, and coordination before leading to dementia and death The NIH.
It belongs to a family of diseases caused by prions, which are infectious proteins that infiltrate the brain.Christmas disease in deer is an example of a prion disease, as well as fatal ones familial insomnia, another brain infection affecting people, which eliminates the ability to sleep and eventually leads to death.
The variant of Creutzfeldt Jakob's disease is extremely rare, with only four people ever diagnosed with the disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The non-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is also rare, with only about 350 cases a year in the United States, according to the NIH. Most people develop the disease spontaneously while some inherit it. Some acquire it in a different way, for example, through the uptake of infected tissue – what scientists suspect with the squirrel's brains.
Tara Chen, a medical student who wrote the report, said it was still unclear whether the squirrel's brains were the cause of the infection, and that according to LiveScience researchers secured autopsy samples. Chen said it was also not clear whether the man ate the brains themselves or meat that was contaminated with brain mass, according to the website.
Squirrel brain transmission of the disease is not a new concern. Doctors in Kentucky warned against eating squirrels in 1997 after 11 people in the state were diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in the New York Times.
"All were Squirrel Brain eaters," a doctor told the newspaper at the time.