A neuropathologist who examined the deaths of eight people in New Brunswick initially described as people with a mysterious neurological disease says the deaths were actually due to known diseases.
A study summary led by Dr. Gerard Jansen of the University of Ottawa, published this month on the website of the Canadian Association of Neuropathologists, says the original cases were “misclassified clinical diagnoses.”
In March, New Brunswick health officials alerted the province’s doctors, nurses and pharmacists to a group of residents with an unknown and potentially new neurological syndrome with symptoms similar to those of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
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Jansen’s study indicates that those who died had diseases that included cancers and known neurodegenerative diseases.
He identified health problems that included Alzheimer’s disease, metastatic cancer, frontotemporal degeneration, Lewy body disease, and vascular disease.
The summary notes that the group was reported in about 50 cases, and eight people from that group have died since 2019. The Canadian Association of Neuropathologists rejected a request to provide access to the full report.
Jansen and his co-authors say in the abstract that they hope the findings will be useful to a provincial committee set up in June to review clinical and epidemiological data on the patients in the group.
Jansen has been involved in the clinical surveillance of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, one of a group of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders known as prion diseases, for more than 30 years.
“During that time, he has seen all kinds of prion diseases happen … but also many similar neurological diseases,” reads the abstract.
New Brunswick man searches for answers as his father slowly deteriorates from a mysterious illness
Steve Ellis, whose father had been identified as having the mysterious neurological disease, said news of Jansen’s findings came out of nowhere.
“For the past two and a half years, two neurologists who are on the New Brunswick oversight committee have told my father what he doesn’t have. If you have something that is a known disease, why hasn’t it been diagnosed yet? Ellis asked in an interview Tuesday night.
“There are too many questions coming from this very vague report that the New Brunswick government didn’t tell us would come,” he said. “It does not answer the questions of those who are still living and why they are sick and why they do not have a diagnosis.”
Ellis’s father, Roger Ellis, who is being cared for in a nursing home in Bathurst, turned 64 on Tuesday.
Ellis said that he had spoken earlier that day with relatives of other patients suspected of having the mysterious neurological disease, and that they were very upset.
The New Brunswick government launched a website in April to update the public on what it called a “neurological syndrome of unknown cause.” Health officials are scheduled to hold a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the status of their investigation.
This Canadian Press report was first published on October 26, 2021.
– With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax
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