Man died of mad cow-like disease after eating squirrel's brain

The common name is eastern gray squirrel or grey squirrel and it's the most common squirrel in Florida

The common name is eastern gray squirrel or grey squirrel and it's the most common squirrel in Florida

A new report on the 2015 death in Rochester, New York, finds that he may have suffered from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a rare brain condition you've likely heard of as "mad cow disease".

The patient was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob, which is a degenerative disease of the brain, which triggers the destruction of cells.

Only a few hundred cases of vCJD have ever been reported, a lot of them in the United Kingdom; just four cases have ever been confirmed in the US. The man was, as Live Science reports, an avid hunter and may have inadvertently mixed some contaminated brain matter from a squirrel he had killed with the rest of the meal.

"It's unclear if the man consumed the entire squirrel brain or just squirrel meat that was contaminated with parts of squirrel brain", the report's lead author said.

The non-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is also rare, with only about 350 cases per year in the United States, according to the NIH. While it often occurs with no known cause, it can be hereditary in people who have a family history of the disease or contracted when the brain or nervous system is exposed to the disease. Prions exist naturally in the brain and are seemingly being harmless to us. Initial signs and symptoms typically include personality changes, anxiety, depression, memory loss, impaired thinking, blurred vision or blindness, insomnia, difficulty in speaking, difficulty in swallowing and, sudden, jerky movements or seizures. There is no treatment or cure and no known way to prevent sporadic CJD.

Most people who contract it only live around a year.

An MRI examination and a test of his cerebrospinal fluid revealed the proteins that usually trigger "mad cow disease".

His case was one of several detailed by doctors from Rochester Regional Health, a major hospital network in the city.

The team is now working to obtain the patient's medical records to see if a coroner confirmed CJD upon his death. By publishing their preliminary case report, they also hope to raise doctors' awareness of CJD, noting that it took an average of two weeks to diagnose or rule out the disease in their cases.

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