Health

Scientists discover rare brain-eating disease is on the rise in Japan

The brain-eating disease is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD) and is thought to be increasing in prevalence due to Japan’s hyper-ageing population.

In what is by far the most outrageous headline I’ve written today, I wish I could say that this article is just a shameless clickbait attempt. But, alas, the rumours are true, and there is indeed a brain-eating prion disease that is on the rise in Japan due to its high per cent of old-timers aged 65 and over.

The deeply disturbing and unusual disease is caused by something called a prion – a rogue and infectious protein that is able to latch onto and corrupt normal and healthy proteins. Once a prion infects a protein, it causes a domino-like effect, quickly corrupting all healthy proteins and turning them into brain-eroding prions. 

brain-eating disease
Photo via The New England Journal of Medicine

Although Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) is extremely rare, according to this study, it is on the rise in Japan as it predominantly affects adults over the age of 70, and Japan has the oldest population in the world.

Symptoms include depression, memory issues, behavioural changes, loss of inhibitions, poor coordination, and visual disturbances and impairments. The disease will erode brain tissue over time, turning it into a sponge-like consistency, and unfortunately, there are currently no treatments, as not a lot is known about it.

As if this disease wasn’t smug enough with its horrific details, similar prion diseases have been discovered and contracted through consuming the brain tissue of an infected person or animal. This was studied when an explorer named Michael Alpers came across a tribe in Papua New Guinea in 1961 who practised cannibalism.

They called the sickness “kuru”, and it entailed body tremors, eventually leading to a total loss of bodily function, spiralling depression, erratic behaviour, and emotional instability, which sometimes exhibited itself as hysterical laughter. A more recent variant of the prion infection is the famous Mad Cow Disease which saw an outbreak in the UK in the ’80s and ’90s.

Something that kuru, Mad Cow, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have in common is that they are essentially neuro-degenerative brain diseases which can’t be stopped once contracted. So, excuse me while I try not to think about the world’s demise through a brain-eating flesh disease.