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Mysterious Brain Syndrome Reported In Canada, Algae To Be Investigated As Possible Cause

According to reports, forty-eight people from the same province in Canada were admitted to hospitals with a mysterious case of brain syndrome. The report comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, causing panic in the country [1]. The hospitalised people have reported symptoms like insomnia, limb dysfunction and even hallucinations.

As per the New York Times report, people with this mysterious disease are all from the Canadian province of New Brunswick, located on the Atlantic coast. The syndrome/disease was first observed in 2015 (some reports say 2013) when Dr Alier Marrero saw a patient who showed a combination of symptoms including depression, rapidly progressive dementia and muscle pains [2].

As of 29 April 2021, 48 cases, along with six deaths, have been reported, though the GNB noted that for the deaths, "in some cases, additional information is needed to determine if the cause of death as a result" of this disease [3].

Mysterious Brain Syndrome In Canada: What We Know So Far

When the news of the mysterious illness began making rounds, there were several explanations as to why and how this was happening. And conspiracy theories, too, were a part of it.

The mysterious brain syndrome has baffled Canada's medical agencies and caught the attention of some of the world's top neurologists, and fanned fears among New Brunswick residents.

Below are the available data on this mysterious brain syndrome:

  • Scientists have claimed that this disease is spreading through the radiation of mobile phone towers.
  • Some experts have said that the symptoms are a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • In 2015, Canada had reports of the same issue, where several people were hospitalised and out of which six had died.
  • The news of this syndrome was exposed when a memo about it by New Brunswick's chief medical officer was leaked to the press in March [4].
  • The disease resembles prion diseases, a group of neurodegenerative diseases caused by proteinaceous infectious particles.
  • Preliminary data shows that the disease is not genetic and could be contracted from water, food or air.

What Are The Symptoms Of The Mysterious Brain Syndrome In Canada?

As per the latest updates, the following are what we know about the symptoms of the condition:

  • Symptoms of the suspected disease are similar to those of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and other prion diseases (disease of structurally abnormal proteins) such as rapidly developing dementia, difficulty walking and changes in gait, hallucinations, muscle stiffness, confusion, fatigue and difficulty speaking.
  • Other possibilities include an environmental toxin similar to domoic acid, which caused the Canadian amnesic shellfish poisoning in 1987.
  • The reported symptoms as per the list published on 25 April are rapidly progressing dementia, unexplained and significant weight loss, myoclonus, aphasia, changes in behaviour, sleep disturbances, unexplained pain, visual hallucinations, co-ordination problems and severe muscle and brain atrophy [5][6][7].
  • In some cases, Capgras delusion and echolalia have been reported.
  • Akinetic mutism was observed in late-stage patients, where they no longer have the ability to speak or move.
  • The majority experience multi-day insomnia, even under medication.
  • On 27 April, more symptoms such as memory problems, muscle spasms, balance issues, difficulty walking or falls, blurred vision or visual hallucinations, unexplained or significant weight loss, behaviour changes and pain in the upper or lower limbs were added [8].

Canadian health experts have mentioned that the disease affects men and women equally and all age group.

Was Named Neurological Syndrome Of Unknown Aetiology In New Brunswick

When the reports in 2015 of the health issues began to surface, the patients ranged from 18-year-olds to 84-year-olds, thereby showing that the health issue is not targeted to a specific age group.

As the doctors were unable to diagnose any health problem in the hospitalised patients, one of the experts who had patients with the case gave the disease a prosaic working name: Neurological Syndrome of Unknown Aetiology in New Brunswick. Also termed as NBNSUC, the first case displayed symptoms as early as 2013 [9].

Blue-Green Algae To Be Investigated As Possible Cause

The disease is being investigated in New Brunswick by Moncton neurologist Dr Alier Marrero of Dr Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre and also by Michael Coulhart.

Cyanobacteria, a bacteria blamed in previous years for killing dogs that consumed it, will be investigated as a potential cause of a mystery neurological brain syndrome [10]. Also known as blue-green algae, the bacteria are a commonly found toxin in the area, and the researchers have begun looking in to see whether there is any link between the two.

"So those are two environmental toxins that can present with these sorts of syndromes, and they are on the list to be studied and to determine if there has been exposure to these two toxins in New Brunswick," said Dr Neil Cashman, a professor in the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine, who's helping investigate the illness [11].

Reports said that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the health organisations in Canada were overwhelmed and failed to pay any attention to the rising number of this mysterious brain syndrome [12].

On A Final Note...

Currently, more studies are being carried out by experts all over the globe to assess the seriousness and, more importantly, the cause of this mysterious brain syndrome. Experts had also said that what can seem like a new illness sometimes turns out to be a known disease that has not been diagnosed.

Story first published: Monday, June 7, 2021, 16:13 [IST]