Prion Infection overview
Prion diseases refer to several different issues with an important type of protein in the brain called prions. These infections tend to cause other proteins in the brain to unfold abnormally, leading to severe complications and eventual death.
Prion diseases are known to be transmittable to humans through contaminated meat products. That said, even the most common types of prion diseases are incredibly rare. There are several different ways someone could end up with one, and they aren’t always anything we can control. Sadly, most types of prion diseases are fatal, with many being extremely fast-moving.
Prion diseases and infections are caused when the prion proteins, which cover many types of cells, start functioning abnormally. This leads to the clumping of prions, which damages the brain in several ways, including memory loss, personality changes, and trouble moving. Given how rare they are, researchers still don’t know much else about these often life-threatening conditions.
The primary symptoms of various prion diseases include rapidly increasing dementia symptoms and confusion, increased fatigue, muscle stiffness, and general difficulty with movement. Signs have also been known to manifest as hallucinations or trouble speaking and finding the right words.
Despite the lack of detailed information, researchers have identified three distinct risk factors for developing prion diseases. As with many conditions, research shows that having a family history of prion diseases greatly increases your risk of developing one as well. That said, others have developed prion diseases due to environmental exposure. For instance, infection from contaminated medical equipment and ingesting infected meat are both known to cause these terrible conditions.
While some of the main risk factors of prion diseases are things we can’t control, there are still some clear cut ways to reduce risk. Generally, robust cleaning and sterilization practices have been shown to reduce the spread of diseases drastically. Advances in regulations for the feeding of cows has also decreased the overall risk of contamination.
As mentioned, Prion diseases are extremely rare, with only around 300 people affected each year in the US. However, given the often terminal prognosis, identifying advances in neuroprotective medicines remains paramount.
Prion infections are severe, and the outlook gets much worse the longer it takes to begin treatment. While prion diseases are often fatal, proper treatment plans can significantly increase the quality of life and even slow the progression. If you’re worried you or a loved one could be facing a prion disease, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Only they can accurately diagnose the issue.