Still more questions, concerns surrounding New Brunswick’s neurological syndrome

Click to play video: 'Frustration grows with lack of information about N.B. mystery neurological syndrome'
Frustration grows with lack of information about N.B. mystery neurological syndrome
WATCH: Frustration grows with lack of information about N.B. mystery neurological syndrome. Travis Fortnum reports. – Jan 3, 2022

Is an unknown neurological syndrome spreading in New Brunswick or not?

If so, does the government know more about it than it’s let on?

These questions and more have been swirling since the province’s Health Minister Dorothy Shephard cast doubt on some cases previously linked to an ongoing investigation – and have been stirred up again by a weekend media story.

British news website The Guardian Sunday posted a story by journalist Leyland Cecco citing an apparent whistleblower within Vitalité, New Brunswick’s French health network.

The anonymous source says cases of the neurological syndrome are spreading – affecting younger people than before.

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Steve Ellis, whose father has been counted among some 48 potential cases, applauds the person for speaking up.

“We need support from the inside,” he says.

“We need people like whoever this is with Vitalité. That’s crucial because they’re sharing things we didn’t know.”

Ellis has been an outspoken advocate for his father and others in his position, often critical of the government’s handling of the file.

He has gone so far as to say in the past that Shephard “dropped the ball” and that the province is “in over its head.”

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Ellis says he worries the government doesn’t want to know what’s making his father and dozens of others sick.

“I believe that they’re trying to protect things that bring money into their province,” he says.

Dr. Neil Cashman, a neurologist and professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia who joined New Brunswick’s investigation last spring, said all potential factors – from diet to environment – would be looked at.

Ellis says the province stands to lose from that, given the money brought in by seafood sales and the tourism industry.

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Global News reached out to Shephard Monday but a request for an interview was declined.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health says she wouldn’t speak until after a pending oversight committee report is finalized and made public, which is expected in the next few weeks.

“The minister believes that any comments on this investigation before then, including rumours by unnamed sources in the media, would be inappropriate,” writes Department of Health communications director Bruce Macfarlane.

Across the legislature floor, members of the Green and Liberal parties are also raising concerns after the Guardian post went live.

“I hate this,” says Green Party Leader David Coon, “but it feels like a coverup.”

Like Ellis, Coon questions the province’s Progressive Conservative government in its decision to decline help from federal experts.

“It really hit home to me when they told the federal experts to back off and not contribute to trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on,” he says.

Coon says even if the illness at hand is known and not new, the case numbers within New Brunswick require action.

“Whatever they are, there’s a large number of them,” he says.

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“It should be treated with the kind of urgency that demands.”

A spokesperson for Vitalité Health Network told Global News Monday that a response to the Guardian story wouldn’t be possible until Tuesday, with offices still closed for the holidays.

On the anticipated oversight committee report, Ellis isn’t optimistic it will bring much more information than Shephard’s October update.

“I’m fearful that this report is going to be further brushing this under the rug,” he says.

The province has promised the report will include the results of the committee’s clinical review of the 48 cases.

That committee is made up of six neurologists, representatives from Vitalité and Horizon health networks and a representative from Public Health.

No set date has been given for its release, just that it’s expected in the next few weeks.

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