Medical experts in North America have been left stumped by a cluster of a strange and baffling brain syndrome affecting people in a small Canadian town.
Some 48 people in the same small province of New Brunswick are exhibiting a mix of unexplained and debilitating symptoms.
They include insomnia, impaired motor function and hallucinations such as nightmarish visions of the dead.
As neurologists and other doctors work to unravel the medical mystery, unfounded conspiracies are popping up, The New York Times reports, blaming the illness on mobile phone towers, fracking or even the Covid-19 vaccines.
Since cases were first recorded about six years ago, dozens of people have fallen ill from the disease and six people have died. To date, the cases continue to confound the medical establishment despite attracting disease detectives from around the world.
Medics initially likened the mysterious condition to the deadly brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), until patient tests came back clear.
In March 2021, Radio-Canada reported medics of New Brunswick province had been warned of a cluster of patients showing signs of a disorder "not seen before".
The province is aware of 48 cases, evenly made up of men and women, aged 18 to 85.
Brain disorder in New Brunswick appears to be 'acquired'
"People are alarmed," said Yvon Godin, the mayor of Bertrand, a village in the Acadian Peninsula in northeastern New Brunswick where residents have been afflicted.
"They are asking, ‘Is it environmental? Is it genetic? Is it fish or deer meat? Is it something else?’ Everyone wants answers," he told Yahoo News Canada last month.
Doctors believe the condition is "acquired", not genetic. With no treatment, doctors are simply focusing on relieving a patient's discomfort ahead of further research.
One who knows the impact of this mysterious disease all too well is Roger Ellis, who collapsed on his 40th wedding anniversary two years ago following a seizure.
Healthy until that day, Mr Ellis – who is in his early sixties – has since endured delusions and hallucinations.
Mr Ellis – who also became unusually aggressive – was thought to be dying, however, doctors could not explain why.
He is one of several patients under the care of Dr Alier Marrero at Dr Georges-L-Dumont University Hospital Centre, in the city of Moncton.
"It's quite disturbing because, for instance, a patient would tell his wife: 'Sorry ma'am you cannot get in bed, I'm a married man' and even if the wife gives her name, he'd say: 'You're not the real one'," Dr Marrero told the BBC.
As part of an investigation into the disease – led by Dr Marrero – patients are asked about their lifestyle and travel history, as well as medics uncovering any potential environmental factors or dietary sources.
"Our first common idea is there's a toxic element acquired in the environment of this patient that triggers the degenerative changes," said Dr Marrero.
One theory is chronic exposure to a so-called excitotoxin like domoic acid, which was linked to an outbreak of food poisoning from contaminated mussels in the nearby province of Prince Edward Island in 1987.
Researchers are also investigating other theories. But for now, the bizarre ailment impacting the town remains a mystery.
with Alexandra Thompson, Yahoo News Canada
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