NY man reportedly dies after eating squirrel brains

Alicia Farmer
October 18, 2018

A 61-year-old who experienced a severe cognitive decline before his death may have had squirrel brains to blame.

A NY man died of an extremely rare neurological disorder after eating the brains of a squirrel.

The New York man was taken to a Rochester hospital in 2015 complaining that he was having trouble thinking, losing touch with reality and couldn't walk.

Tests indicated that this was a "probable" case of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a fatal brain condition caused by infectious proteins called prions, because of the MRI finding and a test that showed specific proteins in the patient's cerebrospinal fluid, which often indicate the disease.

The report was presented at the ID (infectious disease) week conference as an abstract called "Towards Earlier Diagnosis of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs): A Case Series, Including One Associated with Squirrel Brain Consumption".

The man was a hunter, and it was reported that he had eaten squirrel brains, though it's not clear whether he ate an entire brain or just squirrel meat contaminated with brains.

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Chen presented the report on October 4 at IDWeek, an annual meeting of infectious diseases professionals.

A variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob (vCJD) captured the public attention in the 1990s when people in the United Kingdom developed the disease from eating contaminated beef in an outbreak of mad cow disease.

Most people who contract it only live around a year. There is no treatment or cure for the disease.

As the disease progresses it fundamentally changes how a certain protein in the brain functions, causing lesions in brain tissue that rapidly spread and ultimately consumes the individual's mind.

There are 350 cases of the non-variant disease per year on average in the United States, according to the NIH. That number is higher than expected based on the population of the Rochester area, which has about 1 million people, said study co-author Dr. John Hanna, also a medical resident at Rochester Regional Health.

We don't recommend the squirrel brains.

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