MADAWASKA, Maine — New Brunswick is launching an investigation into an unidentified neurological disease that has claimed the lives of six people and infected 48 more in the province, local officials said on Thursday, June 3.

The disease has only been identified in New Brunswick, and according to the Maine CDC, no cases have appeared in the state. But officials from the CDC’s medical epidemiology and disease surveillance have communicated with Maine hospitals in the border region on the symptoms of the neurological disease, CDC communications director Robert Long said Friday.

So far, reported cases are clustered in the eastern part of the province, The Canadian Press reported, but there is no hard evidence yet that the disease is directly connected to geography.

News of the disease first emerged in March, when New Brunswick’s deputy chief medical officer of health, Dr. Cristin Muecke, alerted provincial health care providers and medical associations to the syndrome. The cause is yet unknown, though doctors have identified environmental factors as a likely origin.

The disease first manifests as an onset of neurological symptoms, starting with muscle spasms and cognitive disorder, officials from the team investigating the disease told The Canadian Press. Later symptoms include rapidly progressing dementia, muscle atrophy and hallucinations.

A task force of experts in New Brunswick convened earlier this week to decide how to proceed. The task force will launch an inquiry into the causes of the disease and investigate any potential prevention methods. It is releasing a lengthy survey to patients and their loved ones in an effort to further understand the symptoms, progress and potential causes.

Patients identified so far range in age from 18 to 85, and are almost equally men and women. In the known cases, the progress of the disease takes place over the course of a few years, with most people reporting their symptoms didn’t begin until 2018, 2019 or 2020.

Last week, New Brunswick opened a special clinic in Moncton for patients who have the disease.

“We understand that there are many questions related to this investigation, and these cases,” Abigail McCarthy, New Brunswick Department of Health Communications Officer wrote in a statement. “We are working hard to identify any possible causes, diagnosis and/or treatments.”

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.