Squirrel brains are considered a delicacy by some in Appalachia and other parts of the country. But if I were you I would stay away, because there is a chance you could catch Mad Squirrel Disease. Though technically that is not it’s official name. It does describe the symptoms and how you can be infected.
This all started when a 65 New York man passed away from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) that was traced back to eating infected squirrel brains. VCJD is in the same family of diseases that contain Mad Cow Disease in cattle and Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer and Elk. So even though calling it Mad Squirrel disease is not a stretch.
According to Live Science,
In 2015, the 61-year-old man was brought to a hospital in Rochester, New York, after experiencing a decline in his thinking abilities and losing touch with reality, the report said. The man had also lost the ability to walk on his own.
An MRI of the man’s head revealed a striking finding: The brain scan looked similar to those seen in people with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a fatal brain condition caused by infectious proteins called prions. Only a few hundred cases of vCJD have ever been reported, and most were tied to consumption of contaminated beef in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s.
But in this case, the man had another dietary habit that could have raised his risk for vCJD: His family said he liked to hunt, and it was reported that he had eaten squirrel brains, said Dr. Tara Chen, a medical resident at Rochester Regional Health and lead author of the report. It’s unclear if the man consumed the entire squirrel brain or just squirrel meat that was contaminated with parts of squirrel brain, Chen said.
The New York Times put out a story back in 1997 that warned people to stop eating squirrel brains for just this reason.
Although no squirrels have been tested for mad squirrel disease, there is reason to believe that they could be infected, said Dr. Joseph Berger, chairman of the neurology department at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Elk, deer, mink, rodents and other wild animals are known to develop variants of mad cow disease that collectively are called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.
In the last four years, 11 cases of a human form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, have been diagnosed in rural western Kentucky, said Dr. Erick Weisman, clinical director of the Neurobehavioral Institute in Hartford, Ky., where the patients were treated.
”All of them were squirrel-brain eaters,” Dr. Weisman said. Of the 11 patients, at least 6 have died.
If you hunt squirrels there has been no call to avoid eating the meat. So keep frying them up, just please leave squirrel brains alone. They are not worth the risk.