Originally created 08/31/97

Researchers link consumption of squirrel brains to lethal disorder



LONDON (AP) - U.S. researchers believe they have found a link between a lethal brain ailment and the consumption of squirrel brains, a practice found in some rural parts of the United States.

Scientists at the University of Kentucky worry that Creutzfeldt- Jakob Disease, which can kill humans within months after symptoms appear, may be contracted by eating the brains and nervous system tissue of squirrels.

A tentative warning against eating squirrel brains was published today in The Lancet, a British medical journal.

Mad cow disease, which has led to the deaths of several people in Europe and forced the slaughter of vast numbers of cattle in Britain, also is suspected as a cause of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

Joseph Berger, Erick Weisman and Beverly Weisman of the University of Kentucky reported on five patients, ages 56 to 78, who had been diagnosed as having Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. All of them reported that they had eaten squirrel brains.

Among 100 people of similar age who had no neurological disease, 27 reported eating squirrel brains, the researchers said.

Some residents of rural regions in the United States, including Kentucky, scramble the squirrel brains with eggs, or add them to a stew known as "burgoo."

A big question is whether the disease occurs in squirrels, the researchers said.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease afflicts only about one person in a million, usually striking victims over age 50. It develops slowly, but once symptoms appear, it destroys the brains of its victims, who lose muscle control and mental ability, and die within a few months.