One person has died and two others are in hospital with possible cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease east of Vancouver, the Fraser Health authority has confirmed.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a degenerative brain disease that has raised alarms in the UK in the past because of links to BSE, commonly called mad cow disease.
But officials say they don't believe these suspected cases are associated with eating beef, and say there is no risk associated with eating beef from the region.
B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall said the cases were diagnosed by neurologists on Friday, but none have been confirmed because complete diagnosis can only be made on death.
"Every indication is that if it is Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease it would be the classic sporadic kind for which there is really no cause known," said Kendall.
He said B.C. gets between five and six cases reported a year, but what makes this situation unusual is to have so many cases reported at once.
Kendall said a beef-related outbreak in the U.K. between 1980 and 1996 caused about 250 cases of the human variant, but said he does not think it is related to beef in the B.C. cases.
"I would not worry about this being the beef-associated variant."
Only two such cases have been reported in Canada — one in 2003 and one in 2011. Both cases are believed to have been contracted in the UK.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency runs a surveillance program which Kendall says has ensured that no suspect beef has made its way into the food supply.
"This is not going to be a food-borne cluster of cases."