Doctors in Kentucky have issued a warning that people should not eat squirrel brains, a regional delicacy, because squirrels may carry a variant of mad cow disease that can be transmitted to humans and is fatal.

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.

 

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