Alzheimer’s An Infectious Disease
Neurodegenerative disease has been surging around the world for the past 30 years. It’s the fastest-growing cause of death and it will soon be the leading cause of death. Alzheimer’s disease alone is taking the lives of 50-100 million people around the world now. Millions will die of the disease this year, while millions more will be diagnosed, misdiagnosed and undiagnosed. The epidemic is more severe in some countries than others. No one really knows the scope of the epidemic.
A variety of factors can trigger neurodegenerative disease, including genetics, head trauma and neurotoxins. Misinformation and mismanagement are fanning the flames.
Despite millions of deaths, experts suggest that the prevalence of the disease will quadruple by 2050, if not sooner. Unfortunately, there is a growing stack of evidence that Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other brain diseases are transmissible. Deadly, self-replicating proteins appear to be one of the common threads. Similar proteins appear to be associated with autism and the childhood cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
The epidemic is worse in some regions of the world than others. Finland and Iceland were at the top of the list just a few years ago. Now, countries in the Middle East and Persian Gulf states have soared to the top of the list.
In the United States, for example, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease increased 71 percent from 2000 to 2013. During that time, deaths from heart disease decreased 14 percent.
Contrary to popular thought, many forms of brain disease are infectious, including Alzheimer’s disease.
“There has been a resurgence of this sort of thinking, because there is now real evidence of the potential transmissibility of Alzheimer’s,” says Thomas Wiesniewski M.D. a prion and Alzheimer’s researcher at New York University School of Medicine.
Prions (PREE-ons) are a deadly and unstoppable form of protein that migrates, mutates, multiplies and kills with unparalleled efficiency. Prions cause fatal neurodegenerative disease in humans and other mammals by converting the cellular version of prion protein into a toxic form that erodes the brain and body. Prion disease often is described as a wasting disease that causes a loss of body mass and brain mass.
Dr. Stanley Prusiner, an American neuroscientist from the University of California at San Francisco, earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for discovering and characterizing prions and prion disease. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the importance of his research. Important reforms to policies to protect public health, however, have been elusive.
Prion disease also is known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” Prusiner claims that all forms of TSE are caused by infectious prions.
“Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common neurodegenerative disease in humans and will pose a considerable challenge to healthcare systems in the coming years,” Prusiner said. Aggregation of the β-amyloid (Aβ) peptide within the brain is thought to be an initiating event in AD pathogenesis. Many recent studies in transgenic mice have provided evidence that Aβ aggregates become self-propagating (infectious) during disease, leading to a cascade of protein aggregation in the brain, which may underlie the progressive nature of AD. The ability to self-propagate and the existence of distinct strains reveals that Aβ aggregates exhibit many properties indistinguishable from those of prions composed of PrPSc proteins. The evidence that Aβ can become a prion during disease, Aβ prions may be important for understanding the pathobiology of AD.”
Like prion diseases, misfolded alpha-synuclein and tau protein associated with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, respectively, have been reported in skin tissues of patients with these conditions. Skin could serve as a screen for early diagnosis, but also for monitoring the accumulation of the misfolded proteins in the brain of these neurodegenerative diseases. It also could be another pathway of transmission.
Alzheimer’s disease is killing more than 45 million people today and the numbers are rising rapidly. Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. alone increased 68 percent between 2000 and 2010. Since Alzheimer’s disease barely existed a century ago, it now fits the definition of a global epidemic.
There are 7.7 million new cases of dementia around the globe each year—a new case every four seconds. These numbers are expected to double every 20 years due to a booming elderly population and the possibility that environmental contamination is spreading Alzheimer’s and related diseases.
As such, millions of caregivers are being misinformed, misguided and exposed to an aggressive prion disease. So are friends and family. Unfortunately, Prusiner’s science is being ignored and we all are facing a public health disaster because of the negligence and reckless disregard for public health.
In countries such as Australia, France, South Korea and England, dementia now is a health priority. Action plans are in place to raise awareness among the general public and health professionals; improve diagnosis, treatment and services for long-term care; and increase the capacity of healthcare systems to respond to the challenge of the dementia epidemic.
The Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s epidemic is more widespread than anyone knows. Physicians have withheld millions of diagnoses from patients and their families. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, physicians in the U.S. only inform 45 percent of patients about their Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The same suppression is likely at work in most countries. Meanwhile, millions more go undiagnosed and misdiagnosed.
It’s safe to say that we have explosive growth in Alzheimer’s disease and other prion-related diseases in humans and animals. The spike in all of these diseases started within the past 25 years.
- In 2010 in the United States, the age-adjusted death rate for Alzheimer’s disease was 26 percent higher for whites than blacks;
- The age-adjusted death rate was 43 percent higher for whites than Hispanics;
- Overall, women had a 30 percent higher risk of dying (27.3 per 100,000 population) from Alzheimer’s disease than men (21.0);
- White women had the highest mortality rate from Alzheimer’s disease, followed by non-Hispanic black women;
- Likewise, among men, the highest age-adjusted death rates were for white men (22.0), followed by non–Hispanic black men (18.2); and
- Hispanic men (16.6) and Hispanic women (19.5) have the lowest death rates for Alzheimer’s disease. Similar variations are happening around the world.
If the current growth rate continues, prion contamination in our food, water, air, healthcare systems and beyond will change life as we know it forever. We can’t afford to underestimate the protein predator known as a prion and its role in the Alzheimer’s disease epidemic.