Hunting is pretty popular in the United States, and hunters get excited every year when the different hunting seasons for particular animals start. Popular animals that are hunted all over the country are birds (geese, duck, etc.), small mammals (squirrel, rabbit, etc.), and large mammals (deer, wild boar, etc.). Hunting small mammals is very common, and hunting enthusiasts often bring back what we would usually consider urban rodent pests such as squirrels home to cook up after a long day’s hunt. Usually, this wouldn’t be any kind of newsworthy information, but one hunter this year cooked up some wild squirrel that ended up killing him.
A 61 year old man was rushed to a hospital after he and his family noticed a drastic decline in his cognitive functioning that was making him slowly lose touch with reality. He was also no longer able to even walk on his own two feet. After performing an MRI of the man’s head, the doctors were shocked at what they discovered. His brain scan looked remarkably similar to those of people with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). This fatal brain condition, more commonly known as “mad cow disease” when caught from consuming contaminated beef, is caused by infectious proteins called prions. The disease causes the prion proteins to fold abnormally, which then causes lesions in the brain. Only a few hundred cases of this disease have ever been reported, and only four other cases of vCJD have ever been reported in the United States.
In this man’s case, it was likely another eating habit that put him at risk of catching vCJD. The man was an avid hunter, and had recently eaten squirrel brains. Whether he ate an entire squirrel brain or just meat that was contaminated with the bits of the squirrel brain. Unfortunately, this disease is fatal and the man ended up succumbing to death. When doctors reviewed the five cases of vCJD reported in the U.S. they’re findings were concerning. Diagnosis of these cases was often delayed, with doctors taking two weeks to finally diagnose the patient with vCJD. The woman had been undergoing numerous other procedures during the two weeks that it took the doctors to diagnose her. This is of monumental importance because the infectious prions from the woman could easily contaminated the equipment used on her, which if not cleaned carefully, could then transmit the disease to other patients in the hospital. This revealed a need for doctors to be able to diagnose this disease much faster, and not wait till it’s the last option on the table.
Do you or people you know like to hunt? Do they know that this is a danger, even if remote?