Canadian Neurologists: There Is No Mystery Illness

Panel finds alternative explanations for mystery neurological disorder in New Brunswick
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 25, 2022 6:17 AM CST
Report: Mystery Illness Officials Warned About Doesn't Exist
Doctors look at X-rays and MRI scans.   (Getty Images/Jochen Sand)

There's no mystery neurological condition in New Brunswick, health officials say a year after warning of a cluster of possible cases in the Canadian province. An oversight committee including six independent neurologists reviewed the cases of 48 patients, aged 18 to 85, who suffered debilitating symptoms, including muscle spasms and atrophy, hallucinations, and memory loss, per CTV News and the Canadian Press. They "unanimously agreed that these 48 people should never have been identified as having a neurological syndrome of unknown cause and that based on the evidence reviewed, no such syndrome exists," New Brunswick's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said Thursday, per the CBC.

"This does not mean that these people aren't seriously ill. It means they are ill with a known neurological condition," Russell added. Her office had warned health-care providers about a "cluster of progressive neurological syndrome of unknown etiology" with symptoms similar to those of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease last March, following a "preliminary investigation conducted in late 2019/early 2020." Neurologist Dr. Alier Marrero had identified 46 of at least 48 patients in the cluster and pointed to some kind of environmental exposure. He was not part of the latest investigation but stood by his theory of a new neurological condition as of October, saying it was backed by expert findings.

The committee "could not conclude that the main referring neurologist had sought second opinions," per the CBC. It identified "potential alternative diagnoses" for 41 of the 48 patients, 10 of whom have died. These include Alzheimer's disease, Lewy body dementia, post-concussion syndrome, and cancer. The findings are backed by Public Health New Brunswick and Canada's Public Health Agency. Still, several patients and family members are pushing for a scientific investigation to include environmental testing, saying no additional testing was done. "While our government has turned their back on these people, we haven't," Tim Beatty—whose father, a member of the 48, died in 2019—tells the CBC. (More New Brunswick stories.)

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