New Brunswick’s health minister says an epidemiological report has found no known food, behaviour or environmental exposure that could have caused the symptoms of a mystery brain syndrome.
Dorothy Shephard released the information on the heels of an outside report, which examined eight deaths in the province initially linked to the mystery syndrome and concluded they were all due to known diseases.
In March, New Brunswick health officials alerted the province’s doctors, nurses and pharmacists about the cluster of 48 known cases. Most of the cases were in the Acadian Peninsula or the Moncton region.
On Wednesday, the province confirmed nine of the people in the cluster have died — four of them this year.
During a news conference Wednesday, Shephard said there have been gaps in the reporting process that allowed the situation to escalate “often without oversight.”
She blamed communication breakdowns — both in the province and with federal health officials — for a tangled few months of investigation.
Shephard won’t say the individuals were initially misdiagnosed because she doesn’t want to predetermine the outcome of a study by an oversight committee of six neurologists, who are to report early next year.
“I do think we are getting closer to a determination. I also believe public health had significant reason to question the validity of an unknown neurological illness. And I believe they implemented the scientific and methodical process to ensure affected patients, their families and all of New Brunswickers could have confidence in the results,” she said.
“We know this has been and continues to be an emotional, difficult and trying time for everyone. The clock has not stopped on our work. The oversight committee has committed to completing its work as expeditiously as possible, and I look forward to receiving it and sharing it with the families and the public in the early new year.”
But some family members of those cases say Wednesday’s briefing left them with more questions than answers.
“Answers conflicted with other answers that they gave. They first said eight people died and then they said nine and it just seemed like they were not prepared,” said Steve Ellis, whose father Roger Ellis, has been struggling with a deteriorating health condition since 2019. Roger is among the 48 cases.
“I think New Brunswick has seen what I have been seeing for months. They’re in over their heads.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press