'Nothing is being ruled out': N.B. Public health launches oversight committee to investigate mysterious brain disease
MONCTON -- On Thursday, New Brunswick’s health minister Dorothy Shephard, joined by representatives from Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network, provided an update on the unknown neurological syndrome.
Shephard announced the creation of a new oversight committee that will support the work of the Mind Clinic in Moncton, as well as seek expertise from federal and provincial physicians. The committee will include a set of specialists, experts, and neurologists to provide a second level of expertise, said Shephard.
The committee will be working extensively with public health to find similarities between the cases, as well as speed up the process that will lead to a potential diagnosis or cause.
According to Shephard, it will take four months to review all of the current cases.
“All this eventually will lead, hopefully, to identify one or two potential causes or perhaps none,” said Dr. Édouard Hendriks, the VP of Horizon Health Network. “It’s going to be a very extensive process that hopefully will help us to ensure that we don’t leave anything off the table.”
There are 48 cases under investigation by the province. According to public health, 39 cases have been confirmed and nine are suspected cases. Six people have died from the disease.
According to the government of New Brunswick’s website on the unknown neurological disease, the ages of those being investigated range from 18 to 85.
Steve Ellis’ father Roger Ellis, 63 of Bathurst, N.B. was confirmed to have the disease.
Ellis has been pushing for the province to be more transparent and suggested providing annual updates on the investigation into the disease.
“It feels like this is the transparency that we’ve been fighting for,” said Ellis. This is the first time that I’ve felt very confident that public health is taking this seriously”
Gabrielle Cormier, 20, from Dalhousie, N.B. is a confirmed case. After watching the province’s update, she said she is happy to see more physicians getting involved in the process. However, she is looking forward to the day when there are more answers than questions.
“It didn’t really change anything for me. I already had faith that they would find something,” said Cormier.
While some families are relieved to see that progress is being made, Ellis hopes more updates will be provided from the province as new information comes to light.
“He’s at least 24 months into this illness... and I really hope there’s answers while my dad is still here,” said Ellis.
For the time being, public health will be conducting questionnaires with patients and their families. The lengthy document including questions about the patient’s environment, their residence, and their travel history, said Shephard.
Public health has created a website to provide updated information on the investigation that is exploring all potential causes. The investigation team is exploring all potential causes including food, environmental, and animal exposures.
Symptoms of the mystery syndrome in the province include rapidly progressing dementia, muscle spasms, atrophy, and a host of other complications. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, has been ruled out in the New Brunswick cases.