Tag Archives: mystery

What’s causing N.B.’s mystery neurological disease? Worried residents want answers

News this week that a cluster of more than 40 cases of an unknown neurological disease have been identified and found only in New Brunswick has residents of several communities on edge.

The mystery illness has similarities to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal brain disease.

First diagnosed in 2015, according to an internal Public Health memo sent this month to medical professionals, the disease affects all age groups and appears to be concentrated in the Acadian Peninsula in northeast New Brunswick and the Moncton region in the southeast.

Forty-three cases have been identified, and five people have died.

Since that news was reported on Wednesday, people in those communities have been wondering how alarmed they should be.  

“People are wondering, what is it? Why is it only here? We are hoping that somebody will tell us,” Anita Savoie Robichaud, the mayor of Shippagan, a town on the peninsula, said Friday.


Bertrand Mayor Yvon Godin says residents are ‘very, very worried’ about the disease identified in the Acadian Peninsula and Moncton area. (Radio-Canada)

Yvon Godin, the mayor of Bertrand, a village further north on the peninsula, who also chairs the Forum of Acadian Peninsula Mayors, agrees.

“We are very, very worried about it,” Godin said. “Residents are anxious, they’re asking ‘Is it moose meat? Is it deer? Is it contagious?’ We need to know, as fast as possible, what is causing this disease.”

Dr. Neil Cashman understands the concern.

Cashman, a professor in the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine, is a neurologist with a special expertise in prion diseases — a group of neurodegenerative diseases caused by proteinaceous infectious particles, or prions — including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

When Cashman first heard about the cases in New Brunswick, he says his first thought was, “We have a problem on our hands.”

Clearly, he said, “this was a call to arms to identify the cause.”

Those efforts are already underway.

Teams of researchers, scientists and epidemiologists began assembling about a year ago, both at the national level at Health Canada’s Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance System, to which Cashman is acting as an adviser, and at the provincial level with a research team headed by Moncton neurologist Dr. Alier Marrero.

Having this news put under “the active scrutiny of the public” this week has been a good thing, Cashman said, because it has pulled in clinical and scientific expertise from across Canada.

“There are people offering to help, and these people would not be doing that unless they were aware of this cluster.”

But their work is just beginning.

‘This is something new’

Cashman has a pretty good idea what this mystery disease is not.

All the evidence, he said, points to this not being a prion disease such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. 

“There is no evidence, not a hint — even in the three autopsies that have been performed — of a human prion disease. That came as a surprise to me, frankly,” he said. “So in essence, this is something new, and we need to get on the stick and figure out what this is.”

Cashman said he’s tapping into his expertise in neurology and environmental toxins to look for other explanations.

The fact that the cases are limited to certain regions “fits with the notion of an environmental toxin,” he said.

A possible culprit might be B-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), an environmental toxin made by certain bacteria that can accumulate in fish and shellfish.

Domoic acid, another toxin produced by bacteria and that accumulates in shellfish, sardines and anchovies, is another possibility. So is lead, which can be responsible for clusters of neurodegeneration.


Dr. Neil Cashman, an expert in neurology, says an environmental toxin could be the cause. (Submitted by Neil Cashman)

“All of these are speculation at this point,” Cashman stressed. “A lot of scientific acumen will be required to pin it down to a cause.”

That will take time, and no one can say for sure how long.

“It’s possible ongoing investigations will give us the cause in a week, or it’s possible it will give us the cause in a year,” he said.

“There’s no sensible timeline I can provide on when we’ll have an answer. It’s just something that has to be the focus of scientific attention, and as rapidly as possible.”

In the meantime, he said, he’d advise residents to continue doing what they have been doing, try not to be consumed by anxiety and have faith that a solution will be found.

“I know it sounds like a tired statement, but I would say stay calm, carry on,” he said. “We’ve got to figure it out and the Public Health Agency of Canada is in a good position to do that and come up with a cause … and then of course it can be ameliorated.”

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Environment a chief suspect in mystery neurological disease found only in N.B.

Doctors in New Brunswick are being told to be on the lookout for symptoms of an unknown neurological disease that appears to be a new condition found only in the province and is believed to be linked to environmental causes.

At a public health update on COVID-19 Thursday, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health fielded a number of questions about the mystery disease that was originally identified in the province in 2015.

In an internal memo obtained by Radio-Canada, sent on March 5 by the office of the chief medical officer of health to the New Brunswick Medical Society and to associations of doctors and nurses, the department highlighted a cluster of 42 cases of a progressive neurological syndrome of unknown origin.

Symptoms similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

The disease has symptoms similar to those of the rare and fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but “testing so far has ruled out known prion diseases,” the memo stated.

The first case of the disease was diagnosed in 2015, according to the memo. Three years later, in 2019, 11 additional cases were discovered, with 24 more cases discovered in 2020 and another six in 2021. Five people have died.

The symptoms are similar to those of prion diseases, which include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and some of its variants, including mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

However, despite many similarities, tests for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have so far ruled out known prion diseases, the March 5 public health memo states.

Scientists are currently looking into the possibility that this is a new variant of a prion disease — or a new disease entirely.

On Thursday, Russell confirmed it is “most likely a new disease,” and noted “we haven’t seen this anywhere else” in Canada.

The cases have been reported to Health Canada’s Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease surveillance system, which determined that the rising number of cases should now be considered a cluster, Russell said.

At that point, she said, the March 5 memo was sent out to the province’s health-care professionals.


Moncton neurologist Dr. Alier Marrero said the leading hypothesis so far is that the disease is caused by something environmental. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Doctors suspect environmental link

According to preliminary data from a research group on the subject, headed by neurologist Alier Marrero of Moncton’s Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, the disease is not genetic.

“We don’t know yet where this is coming from,” but the leading hypothesis so far is that it’s environmental, Marrero said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday.

“We believe it is acquired from exposure to something in the environment … either food, water … toxins.”

Over the course of the six years since the disease first appeared in New Brunswick in 2015, case numbers have grown steadily and “clustered” in the Moncton and Acadian Peninsula areas of the province. 

“We have seen clustering of cases in some areas and we don’t know why,” Marrero said. 

According to the Public Health memo, the median age of the cases is 59 years, although female cases tend to be younger, with an average age of 54. Cases are distributed equally among men and women, the memo said. 

The symptoms of the disease are typically not very specific in the initial stages.

“It’s usually behavioural changes … for instance, an excess of anxiety, a little bit of irritability, unexplained pains in the limbs, muscle spasms, insomnia,” Marrero said.

As the disease progresses over a course of 18 to 36 months, loss of balance and co-ordination have been observed, and “sometimes patients have abnormal and rapidly progressing brain atrophy.”

No public health threat

However, Marrero and Russell both stopped short of calling the cases a public health threat. 

“Fear is usually bad advice because it will paralyze us,” Marrero said. “We are working very hard to figure this out, so we can stop it, so we can treat it.”

He advised that if anyone suspects they have symptoms of the disease, they should report them to their doctor, who will then refer them to the clinic.  

Symptoms that might appear to be related to the disease could actually be caused by another condition, he said. 

“For instance the patient could have multiple sclerosis, they could have Alzheimer’s disease … or some other condition that could be known and treated. So it’s important that they get referred and evaluated.”

Russell agreed.

“Right now, it’s just about awareness, making sure that physicians are watching for neurological symptoms like this so they can refer them to be assessed,” she said.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of trying to determine the cause.”   

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Mystery illness in India has killed 1, hospitalized hundreds

At least one person has died and 200 others have been hospitalized due to an unidentified illness in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, reports said Monday.

The illness was detected Saturday evening in Eluru, an ancient city famous for its hand-woven products. Since then, patients have experienced symptoms ranging from nausea and anxiety to loss of consciousness, doctors said.

A 45-year-old man who was hospitalized with nausea and symptoms similar to epilepsy died Sunday evening, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Officials are trying to determine the cause of the illness. So far, water samples from impacted areas haven’t shown any signs of contamination, and the chief minister’s office said people not linked to the municipal water supply have also fallen ill.

The patients are of different ages and have tested negative for COVID-19 and other viral diseases such as dengue, chikungunya or herpes.

An expert team delegated by the federal government reached the city to investigate the sudden illness Monday.

State chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy visited a government hospital and met patients who were ill.

Opposition leader N. Chandrababu Naidu demanded on Twitter an “impartial, full-fledged inquiry into the incident.”

Andhra Pradesh state is among those worst hit by COVID-19, with more than 800,000 detected cases. The health system in the state, like the rest of India, has been frayed by the virus.

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NHL draft lottery ends on cliffhanger as mystery team wins No. 1 pick

Alexis Lafreniere will have to wait a little longer to find out where he’ll start his NHL career.

One of eight placeholder spots beat the odds to secure the No. 1 pick in the league’s draft lottery Friday, meaning a second draw is required later this summer following the qualifying round of the NHL’s return-to-play plan.

“Still not drafted, so we’ll still have to wait a little bit,” Lafreniere said on the television broadcast.

The placeholders, who represent the eight teams that will eventually lose out in the NHL’s qualfying round, had a combined 24.5 per cent chance of picking first.

The eliminated teams from eight separate best-of-five play-in series will have a 12.5 per cent chance of securing the top pick in the second phase of the lottery.

The Los Angeles Kings will pick second, while the Ottawa Senators, who had the best combined odds of picking first at 25 per cent because they also owned the San Jose Sharks’ selection, will select third and fifth.

“It’s an interesting night when you’re coming into this, because you know all the odds and the different scenarios,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. “We were sitting fourth coming into this and we finished second, so we’re excited about that opportunity.”

The Detroit Red Wings, who had the best singular odds to pick first at 18.5, fell to No. 4 after losing all three lotteries for the top-3 picks.

“Realistically, I’m prepared to be sitting here today not talking about the first pick,” Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman said. “I’m not really surprised.”

“We all knew this could happen,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion added of seeing a placeholder get the No. 1 spot.

The league was originally scheduled to hold the first round of the 2020 draft Friday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause to the season back in March.

WATCH | Placeholder team earns top pick:

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announced that the first overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft will belong to a team that has yet to be eliminated from the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 1:12

Lafreniere — a winger for the Rimouski Oceacnic and NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater — is expected to go first overall when the draft is eventually held at a later date.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly revealed the draft order from the league’s television studio in Secaucus, N.J., just outside New York City.

The Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres round out the top-8 in what is the most complicated lottery in NHL history.

Apart from its own pick, 30th-ranked Ottawa also possesses San Jose’s selection as part of the blockbuster trade for star defenceman Erik Karlsson in September 2018. San Jose was 29th in the overall standings when the league went on hiatus.

The seven draft spots owned by franchises outside the league’s 24-team plan to resume the 2019-20 season later this summer were confirmed as part of the draw, but the other eight were occupied by placeholders representing clubs that will eventually lose out in the best-of-five qualifying round ahead of the playoffs.

Picks nine through 15 will now be determined by the yet-to-be-eliminated teams’ regular-season points percentage at the time of the league’s pause on March 12.

And there’s still no guarantee the NHL will be able to resume its season this summer.

The league and the players’ association continue to negotiate a number of details related to the plan to resume the pandemic-hit campaign — among them health and safety concerns, and where the two hub cities will be located — all while attempting to tie everything together with a possible extension to the current collective bargaining agreement.

‘He’s shown himself at every level’

Lafreniere, the two-time Canadian Hockey League player of the year, had 35 goals and 112 points in 52 games before the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season was cancelled because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The 18-year-old from St-Eustache, Que., was also named MVP of the 2020 world junior hockey championship after helping lead Canada to gold.

“He’s shown himself at every level, every event that he’s capable to be the difference maker,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “He knows what needs to be done, and he can go out and make that happen. There’s not too many players that can take control of a game, take control of a situation.

“He has the talent, the skills, the speed, the smarts, the compete, the battle, the perseverance, the will to be the best, and the will to win.”

Sudbury Wolves centre Quinton Byfield of the Ontario Hockey League is ranked No. 2 behind Lafreniere on the North American list, while German winger Tim Stutzle slots in as the No. 1 European skater.

“This is a hell of a draft, especially at the top,” said Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving, whose team is preparing to meet the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL’s qualifying round. “There’s some big-time players.”

The draft lottery is usually held in April at the conclusion of the regular schedule and before the playoffs, but was pushed back because of the pandemic before the NHL unveiled this format as part of its return-to-play plan last month.

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‘RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race’: See All the Mystery Stars’ Makeovers

‘RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race,’ Episode 4: See All the Mystery Stars in Drag | Entertainment Tonight

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‘RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race’: See All the Mystery Stars in Drag

‘RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race,’ Episode 2: See All the Mystery Stars in Drag | Entertainment Tonight

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‘RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race’: See All the Mystery Stars in Drag

‘RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race’: See All the Mystery Stars in Drag | Entertainment Tonight

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U.S. warns its citizens in China about mystery pneumonia outbreak

The U.S. State Department warned Americans in China about an outbreak of pneumonia in the central city of Wuhan believed to be caused by a new strain of coronavirus, which has killed one person.

The outbreak comes ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, when many of China’s 1.4 billion people will be travelling to their home towns or abroad. The World Health Organization and Chinese authorities are taking steps to ensure the disease does not spread further.

Thai health authorities said on Wednesday they were stepping up monitoring of passengers arriving at airports with infrared thermal scanners ahead of the holiday, when 800,000 Chinese tourists are expected to visit the country.

Memories remain fresh in Asia of a 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in China and killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

WHO has said there may have been limited human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus in China within families.

And authorities in Wuhan confirmed on Wednesday that a married couple were among 41 people diagnosed with pneumonia believed to be caused by the new virus. There were no new cases or deaths at the end of Tuesday, the city’s health authority said.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission did not say in the statement whether the couple represented an instance of human-to-human transmission. But it said the husband, who worked at a seafood market suspected of being at the epicentre of the outbreak, was the first to fall ill and that his wife did not have any exposure to the market.

Some of the other people diagnosed also denied visiting the market, the commission said. The authorities in Wuhan also confirmed that a Chinese woman quarantined in Thailand, the first case of the mystery strain of coronavirus to be detected outside of China, had come from Wuhan.

The State Department’s notice referred to an alert by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging citizens in China traveling to Wuhan to avoid contact with animals, animal markets or animal products, among other precautions.

It also asked citizens those who had visited Wuhan and feel sick to seek medical care.

Similarly, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website warns travellers to Wuhan to avoid contact with animals and to report any symptoms to health-care workers.

The Wuhan health commission said in another statement issued late Wednesday that seven of the 41 pneumonia patients have been released. The statement also said that 450 of the 763 people put under observation due to their close contact with known patients have been released.

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China’s mystery ‘coronavirus’ isn’t currently spreading, WHO says

An outbreak of respiratory illness that has killed one person in China and infected 40 others appears to be linked to a single seafood market in the central city of Wuhan and has not so far spread beyond there, the World Health Organization said on Sunday.

The cluster of infections had raised fears of a potential epidemic after China said last week that the virus causing it was a previously unknown type but came from the same family of viruses that caused the SARS and MERS epidemics.

However, the WHO said the outbreak had not spread. The seafood market in Wuhan — a major domestic and international transport hub in central China — is now closed and no cases have been reported elsewhere in China or internationally, it said.

“The evidence is highly suggestive that the outbreak is associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan,” the WHO statement said, adding that the market was closed on Jan. 1. “At this stage, there is no infection among healthcare workers, and no clear evidence of human to human transmission.”

The WHO said last week that a newly emerging member of the “coronavirus” family of viruses that caused the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks was the likely cause of the outbreak.

Coronaviruses can cause infections ranging from the common cold to SARS. Some types cause less serious disease, while others can be far more severe.

Among 41 people confirmed as infected with the new viral pneumonia, one — a 61-year-old man with serious underlying medical conditions — died last week. Seven others are in critical condition, the Wuhan health authorities said on Saturday.

The WHO said preliminary epidemiological investigations had found most cases were in people who either worked at or were frequent visitors to Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.

“To date, investigations are still under way to assess the full extent of the outbreak,” it added.

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Hong Kong to add mystery respiratory illness to reportable diseases

Hong Kong’s health chief said Tuesday that a respiratory illness whose cause remains unknown will be added to an official list of diseases that medical practitioners are required to report to the government.

The disease — an unidentified form of viral pneumonia — has sent 59 people to the hospital in the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan, in central Hubei province. As of Sunday, seven were in critical condition, while the rest were stable. Municipal authorities have ruled out SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that killed 700 people in 2002 and 2003.

In Hong Kong, a total of 15 patients were being treated Sunday for symptoms including fever and respiratory infection after recent visits to Wuhan. It is not clear whether they have the same illness as the Wuhan patients.

Speaking at a news conference, the health chief, Sophia Chan, said the “severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent” will be added to a list of reportable infectious diseases in Hong Kong’s Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance.

The regulation enables the government to take stronger measures against the spread of certain diseases, such as tuberculosis and chicken pox. Actions under the ordinance could include enforcing quarantines or limiting the movement of people who are suspected to have infections.

“Under the amendment, medical practitioners will have to report suspected cases as well as carry out appropriate investigations and follow-ups to the Center for Health Protection under the Department of Health,” Chan said.

The U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan issued a health alert Tuesday for the pneumonia outbreak, warning travellers to Wuhan to avoid animals, as well as animal markets and products.

Dr. Gauden Galea, WHO Representative to China, said public health officials in China “remain focused on continued contact tracing, conducting environmental assessments at the wholesale market, and investigations to identify the pathogen causing the outbreak.”

WHO is closely monitoring the event and communicating with counterparts in China, Galea added in a emailed statement.

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