A man who had a fondness for eating squirrel meat has appeared to have contracted the deadly variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), otherwise known as mad cow disease. He reportedly contracted the rare disease after eating squirrel brains from animals he had caught himself. As yet, it is unclear whether or not he intentionally ate squirrel brains or whether the meat was tainted with brain matter.
According to Newsweek, a report presented at IDWeek delved into the case involving a 61-year-old hunter and the contraction of the rare and deadly disease.
The case first presented itself in 2015 when the man went to a hospital in Rochester, New York, suffering from an inability to walk. Prior to that point, the man had been “experiencing a decline in his thinking abilities and losing touch with reality,” according to Live Science. It has since been established that the man died from the fatal disease.
During his stay in the hospital, a brain scan was done and it was at this point that the connection between his symptoms and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was made. This was a disturbing find as cases linked with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease usually involved the consumption of contaminated beef in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s. However, it was soon discovered that this case could be linked to the fact the man had consumed squirrel meat that could have contained squirrel brains.
In total, only a few hundred cases of this rare disease have been reported and Dr. Tara Chen, who presented the report at IDWeek, was interested in “researching every case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease at Rochester Regional Health over the past five years,” according to Newsweek. Her interest in the rare disease was piqued when four cases of suspected Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) were reported between a six-month period, from November of 2017 to April of 2018. She came across the case of the squirrel hunter while “writing a report on suspected Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease cases seen at her hospital in the last five years,” according to Live Science.
Initially, it was believed that five people had contracted the devastating disease but of those, two ended up testing negative for CJD. It is believed that the hunter who consumed squirrel brains was a “probable” case of vCJD. This finding was due to MRI scans taken at the time indicating a similar brain pattern to those suffering from vCJD. A test showing “specific proteins in the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid” that are linked to vCJD was also performed at the time. However, a lack of evidence of a final test done after the man’s death led to the “probable” conclusion rather than a definite confirmation of the disease. Dr. Chen and her associates are looking to have access to the patient’s records, though, to see if this test was actually performed or not.