According to the report, the 61-year-old man had been admitted to a hospital at Rochester Regional with cognitive impairment, schizophrenia and psychosis in 2015; he was also unable to walk under his own power.
As reported by the United Kingdom news portal DailyMail, that happened in 2015 at a Rochester hospital where the man went complaining of losing his ability to walk correctly, think, and losing touch with reality.
Only once his brain scan results and other tests were out the experts found out that he may have had a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). vCJD is a type of a rare neurodegenerative ailment that can be fatal.
However, the medical personnel could not link the man's situation to anything, that until the family of the NY man admitted he was a hunter and had recently eaten squirrel brains. Dr. Tara Chen, a medical resident at Rochester Regional Health and lead author of the report, said it's unclear if the man consumed the entire squirrel brain or just squirrel meat that was contaminated with parts of squirrel brain.
The disease is similar to "mad cow disease", which causes tiny holes to fill the brain until the tissue looks like a sponge (which is where '"spongiform" comes from), according to the National Institutes of Health.
The rarest form is acquired CJD, which is when the brain or nervous system tissue becomes infected through exposure - only causing one percent of cases. It is believed that the man's habit of eating squirrel brains may have raised his risk for vCJD.
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Though current tests can distinguish vCJD from the classical form of the disease, Chen told Live Science that it's unknown whether the man was definitively diagnosed with CJD.
Most patients suffering from CJD and vCJD die within a year. There is no treatment or cure and no known way to prevent sporadic CJD.
Only four confirmed cases of vCJD had been reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The rare disease most often affects those around 60 years old.
CJD is one of several diseases that are caused by a kind of protein known as a prion.
The high number of suspected cases forced doctors to review all the cases recorded at the Rochester Regional Health hospital between 2013 and 2018. With many fatal brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's, doctors can only be sure of the diagnosis by examining the brain after death.