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N.B. officials change course on medical mystery

Suspected neurological illness is debilitating and even killing patients in New Brunswick, but provincial health officials are questioning whether a mysterious brain disease is really behind it.
Dr. Alier Marrero, pictured at the Mind Clinic at the Moncton Hospital, is not part of a committee set up by the Department of Health to investigate a cluster of patients with an unknown neurological illness. Marrero treats many of these patients at the Mind Clinic. (Horizon Health Network)

A cluster of cases in New Brunswick, which health experts first suspected was a neurological illness, include symptoms ranging from memory loss to muscle atrophy to terrifying hallucinations. Of 48 patients being studied, nine have died.

In March, provincial health officials raised the potential of a mysterious brain disease driving the cases. Experts have noted the symptoms in young patients, and there is a concentration of cases around Moncton and the Acadian Peninsula in the northeast of the province.

Now, public health officials have changed course and have cast doubts on whether the symptoms are indeed caused by a neurological illness.

Today on Front Burner, Matthew Halliday explains the shifting provincial strategy, which is frustrating patients and families. Halliday is the editor of The Deep Magazine, and author of a new feature chronicling the investigation for The Walrus.

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