(CNN) — A Northern Minnesota woman has been diagnosed with the rare strain of acrid-smelling prion infection that has killed at least six people in the US and Canada.
Amanda Capriotti, 24, of Bemidji is being treated in an intensive care unit in Minneapolis and is improving, her boyfriend Justin Jepson said in a statement released Monday.
The Minnesota Department of Health and the local health department said last week that a case of prion infection — called a variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — had been confirmed in a 46-year-old man who lives in Cass County in central Minnesota.
On Friday, the department announced a separate case in a 37-year-old man from north-central Minnesota who is being treated in an intensive care unit.
In a statement announcing Capriotti’s case, authorities said an investigation is underway, but they could not comment on whether there were similarities between the cases.
Minnesota Department of Health spokeswoman Angelia Bush said officials could not speculate on how Capriotti became infected, other than that it is not immediately clear how she was infected.
Another Minnesota resident, a 72-year-old man, also was recently diagnosed with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which affects nerve cells in the brain. His health is improving.
Minnesota officials said the most recent infection happened in the second week of October.
The prion disease often appears as a vegetative state in patients with the infection, according to the Health Department. Symptoms usually include brain damage and sometimes progressive paralysis. People who recover can show signs of personality change and erratic behavior.
In rare cases, the disease can progress to death, particularly in patients with dementia, according to the state health department.
According to the National Institutes of Health, people with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease often are isolated and treated with aggressive, potentially life-threatening therapy. Prion disease is more common in men, older people and people with a suppressed immune system.
“These two recent cases underscore how important it is for anyone to have thorough home or care facility inspections to ensure this rare condition is not present in any of their surroundings,” said Nick Schulz, epidemiologist for the public health department.
Since 2009, Minnesota has reported 18 cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and has recorded six deaths. Two other such cases have been reported in Canada.