New Brunswick's provincial flag flies on a flagpole in Ottawa, Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

N.B. health officials tracking cluster of patients with unknown brain disease

N.B. health officials tracking cluster of patients with unknown brain disease

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick health officials are alerting the province’s doctors, nurses and pharmacists about a growing cluster of people with a neurological syndrome of unknown origin.

Symptoms of the condition are similar to those of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare degenerative brain disorder, chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters Thursday.

There are 43 cases under investigation in the province, with 35 confirmed and eight suspected cases, Russell said.

“It most likely is a new disease. We haven’t seen this anywhere else,” she said. The condition has largely been detected by doctors in the Moncton region and the northeastern part of the province, she said.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of trying to determine the cause, so it’s too early really to say very much more,” Russell said.

News of the unknown syndrome first emerged through a March 5 memo from deputy chief medical officer of health Dr. Cristin Muecke to the province’s various medical professional associations. The note asks anyone who suspects they may have come across a patient with the illness to refer them to a specialized clinic.

“We are collaborating with different national groups and experts; however, no clear cause has been identified at this time,” Muecke said in the memo.

According to the memo, the first known case dates to 2015 but was identified later. Eleven more were found in 2019, 24 were detected in 2020 and four more had been identified in 2021 at the time the memo was written. A Health Department spokesperson said three more cases have since been flagged for investigation.

Five people with the unknown syndrome have died, the memo said. Symptoms include rapidly progressing dementia, muscle spasms, atrophy and a host of other complications.

An equal number of men and women have been afflicted with the illness, and the median age of the patients is 59 years old, though the average female patient is 54 and the average male patient is 62, Muecke said in the memo. By contrast, dementia is most prevalent in people over 65, according to Statistics Canada.

“The unfortunate part is that it is affecting some younger people, so it is something that we’re looking into right now and collecting as much information as we can,” Russell said Thursday.

When asked why the memo was sent March 5 given that cases have been developing over several years, Russell said the situation has been evolving. “We’ve been working with our local physicians and public health, and at the national level,” she said. “So once they decided it did meet the criteria for a cluster and that we should be looking further into it, that’s when we started that process.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2021.

— By Sarah Smellie in St. John’s with a file from Danielle Edwards

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said 14 cases of the disease were detected in 2020.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell tries to tip a point shot past Lethbridge Hurricanes goalie Car Tetachuk in WHL action Friday night at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels struggles continue, drop seventh straight to Hurricanes

Hurricanes score three power-play goals in 6-3 win

Downtown Red Deer patio restaurants have been busy this summer. Contributed photo
City of Red Deer expediting patio application process for restaurants

The City of Red Deer is allowing businesses to install patios prior… Continue reading

RDC Queens forward Camryn Wallan was named the 2020-21 RDC Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Wallan, Podgorenko named 2020-21 RDC Outstanding Athletes of the Year

Even with the cancellation of the 2020-21 Alberta Colleges Athletic Association, RDC… Continue reading

A new Angus Reid poll says that close to two-thirds of Albertans think premier Jason Kenney is doing a bad job handling the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
75% of Albertans disapprove of Kenney’s pandemic leadership: poll

Nearly 75 per cent of Albertans believe Premier Jason Kenney is doing… Continue reading

Alberta reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases since December 16 on Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Alberta reports 1,521 additional COVID-19 cases, 674 new variant cases

Daily case total the highest since mid-December

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is seen in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. The University of Victoria and the head coach of its women's rowing team have denied allegations of demeaning and aggressive treatment outlined in a lawsuit filed last summer by a former student and team member. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Canada's Julia Grosso, right, and Wales' Natasha Harding battle for the ball during the women's international friendly soccer match at Leckwith Stadium, Wales, Friday, April 9, 2021. Canada blanked Wales 3-0 but lost captain Christine Sinclair to an injury in the fist half of a soccer friendly Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-PA, Nick Potts
Canada blanks Wales in soccer friendly but has injury scare with Christine Sinclair

Canada blanks Wales in soccer friendly but has injury scare with Christine Sinclair

Canada's DTH Van Der Merwe, left, is tackled by Hong Kong's Toby Fenn, during the 2019 Japan Rugby Union World Cup qualifying match between Canada and Hong Kong, in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Claude Paris
Canadian rugby star DTH van der Merwe enjoying life in Los Angeles

Canadian rugby star DTH van der Merwe enjoying life in Los Angeles

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher, right, makes a shot as second Brad Thiessen sweeps against Germany at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canada’s Bottcher heads into men’s world curling playoffs on a winning note

Canada’s Bottcher heads into men’s world curling playoffs on a winning note

Justin Rose, of England, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament on Friday, April 9, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Rose clings to 1-shot Masters lead as Spieth, Thomas lurk

Rose clings to 1-shot Masters lead as Spieth, Thomas lurk

People shop for essential items at Costco as pallets block off aisles and sections that have been deemed non-essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, April 8, 2021. Retailers in Ontario are adjusting to new lockdown restrictions with stores like grocers, discount and big box chains roping off non-essential items from underwear to calculators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Ontario retailers adjust to new rules, non-essential goods off-limits to shoppers

Ontario retailers adjust to new rules, non-essential goods off-limits to shoppers

A worker smooths concrete at a construction site in Toronto on January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Economy adds 303,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate falls, Statistics Canada says

Economy adds 303,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate falls, Statistics Canada says

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 30, 2021 file photo, a banner encouraging workers to vote in labor balloting is shown at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. Vote counting in the union push in Bessemer is expected to start as early as Thursday, April 8, but hundreds of contested ballots could muddy the outcome if it’s a close race. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File)
Amazon warehouse workers reject union bid in Alabama

Amazon warehouse workers reject union bid in Alabama

Most Read