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Man’s death linked to consumption of squirrel brains

Published Oct 17th, 2018 1:23PM EDT
squirrel brain disease
Image: Neil Conway

Hunting for your own food can be a rewarding and liberating thing, but knowing where to stop when preparing wild game for consumption is obviously pretty important. A case of a 61-year-old from Rochester, New York, is getting some attention lately as a stark reminder of that fact, as the man’s consumption of squirrel brains ultimately resulted in his death.

The man, who first complained of symptoms in 2015, was ultimately found to have an extremely serious and very rare brain disorder as a result of loving squirrel meat. The man was, as Live Science reports, an avid hunter and may have inadvertently mixed some contaminated brain matter from a squirrel he had killed with the rest of the meal.

The man’s case, which was reported as part of a larger analysis in IDWeek, is extremely unique. It’s thought that the man had contracted a form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which affects a scant 1 in one million people per year across the world.

The symptoms are incredibly dire, and those diagnosed with the disease almost always die within a year of showing symptoms. Those symptoms include psychosis as well as impaired movement, and there was nothing that could be done for the man before the disease took his life.

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. This obviously explains the psychological and physical symptoms of the disease, but it also makes the disorder extremely difficult to stop.

The case report urges doctors to consider the disease when making future diagnoses, as pinpointing it as a cause of symptoms is so often delayed to the point where there’s no time to even consider treatment.