Prion Disease - A New Workplace Wellness Challenge
Our world is full of miracles and marvels. Every day new dreams take birth and technological advancements make our lives better. But every day also brings its own set of new challenges for us humans, testing our biological adaptability.
Covid-19 highlighted how delicate our world is and how an invisible enemy can bring our world to a standstill. Prion disease is one such challenge that has the potential to cause disruption to our socio-economic fabric and Individual wellness on a larger scale.
In this article, we will dig deeper into the subject and understand Prion disease and how it can affect employee wellness.
What is a Prion Disease?
Prion diseases are also known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSEs). These are a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect humans and animals alike.
Prions lead to the deposition of folded proteins in the brain in an abnormal manner. It can then cause tiny holes or perforations to form in the brain tissue, making it appear like a sponge. This can result in abnormal functioning of the brain and can affect the normal life of an individual. In humans it can affect the:
- Memory Power
- Behavioral Instability
- Normal physical movements
Although Prion diseases are very rare, nearly 350 new cases are reported each year in the United States. It is important that the disease is taken seriously or else the consequences could be very fatal.
Types of Prion Disease
As Prion diseases impact both humans and animals, their classifications are also divided based on whom they are affecting.
In Humans, Prion diseases include-
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)
- Fatal Familial Insomnia
- Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD)
- Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker Syndrome
In Animals, Prion diseases include-
- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
- Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
- Ungulate spongiform encephalopathy
- Transmissible mink encephalopathy
- Feline spongiform encephalopathy
Usually, it affects animals like cows, deers, moose, and cats.
Causes of Prion Disease
Prion diseases usually occur when a normal prion protein, found on the surface of many human cells, becomes abnormal and forms clusters around the brain. It leads to damage in the nerve cells. This abnormal accumulation of protein in the brain causes memory loss, behavioral changes, and difficulties with normal movement.
Although a lot about prion diseases is still unknown as the study around it is still under development, these disorders are generally fatal if left unattended.
The nature of the transmission of this disease is still quite unclear. The currently accepted theory is that a modified form of a normal protein known as prion protein acts as the agent. This prion protein turns into a pathogenic form damaging the central nervous system.
The several means by which one can get this disease are:
- Exposure to abnormal Prion protein from an external source, most likely through contaminated food or medical equipment.
- Mutations can push a gene to sometimes code for Prion protein. It can lead to the production of misfolded Prion Protein.
- Misfolded Prion protein may sometimes develop without any known cause too as it involves a biological process.
Factors on which Prion Disease Transmission Depends
Several factors are there which can play a part in an individual catching the Prion disease. These are -
1. Genetic Makeup of the Individual
If someone from the family has prion disease, then it increases the chances of the individual inheriting the prion disease.
People who are older are more likely to catch this disease.
3. Consumption of contaminated Animal Products
Prion disease can be transmitted by consuming animal products that are contaminated with prion inflammation.
Prion diseases generally have a very long incubation period, sometimes extending upto years. After symptoms develop, the health of the individual worsens progressively.
Common symptoms of prion disease include:
- Trouble having clear thinking, and judgment.
- Changes in personality traits like agitation, and depression
- Confusion or disorientation
- Muscular spasms
- Loss of coordination in the form of ataxia.
- Trouble getting proper sleeping (insomnia)
- Difficulty with speech
- Impaired vision or blindness
As prion diseases have similar symptoms to other neural disorders, they are quite difficult to diagnose. The only way to confirm a prion disease is through a brain biopsy, but that is performed after death.
However, a doctor can take help of visible symptoms, medical history, and wellness assessments through tests to help diagnose prion disease.
Some of the tests that can be conducted are-
- CSF Testing (Cerebrospinal Fluid Testing)
- MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) - Creates a detailed image of the brain. It helps the doctor to observe changes in the brain structure.
- EEG (Electroencephalography) - This diagnosis records the electrical activity in the brain.
How does Prion Disease affect Workplace Wellness?
The workplace is a dynamic environment, which requires employees to regularly learn, adapt and perform to the best of their abilities. As prion disease affects the central nervous system and brain of an individual, if an employee gets this disease, it will impact his performance and health on a very serious level.
It is important that employees are given proper information regarding the preventive measures they must take to prevent themselves from this disease. Encourage your employees to look for the outlined symptoms and report to the doctor as soon as possible. Remember, early diagnosis is half the battle won!
Following are some of the ways Prion DIsease can negatively affect a workplace-
1. Impact the Memory and Judgement of Employees
To perform at the best of their abilities, employees need to have a sound memory and judgment. A workplace needs the employee to adapt their skills, behavior accordingly and make the correct decisions when the need arises.
Employees with Prion disease may not be able to have clear thinking due to brain damage. Hence they will be unreliable for responsibilities with the management. Identify such employees and facilitate them to get treatment at the earliest.
2. Difficulty in Speech
An employee needs to have good communication skills to be at the productive best at work. Good communication helps employees to maintain a cordial relationship with their co-workers too.
Employees infected with prion disease face problems having a clear speech. That can really dampen the confidence of the employee and result in him getting a bit left out.
3. Reduced Stamina and more Muscular Pain
Employees with Prion disease generally report muscular pain, much more than the average rate of muscular aches. They feel more tired, exhausted, and unmotivated. This will cause such employees to underperform in group tasks, which can impact the motivation and performance of the colleagues too.
4. Insomnia Problems
According to the Sleep Foundation, an average adult needs to get between 7-8 hours of sleep every day to perform at the optimum level, without compromising on performance.
The Prion-infected employees have trouble sleeping. As the employees are not getting proper sleep and rest, they are not fresh enough. They do not recover from work-related burnouts and mental fatigue, which affects their health and performance in the workplace.
5. Effect the mental Health of Employees
Living with a neural disease can be really tough, especially for the employees. They have to handle work-related pressure and work-life balance. With lesser brain function and constant work pressure, employees’ mental health can be affected.
Such employees report depression and frustration. These employees are more likely to indulge in unhealthy lifestyle habits.
6. Vision Concerns
Prion disease also affects normal vision. Employees with prion disease can face difficulty staring at the screen for long hours. These employees are required to undergo frequent eye checkups. If left unaddressed, the employees can report headaches, nausea, and migraine problems.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for prion disease. As the subject is in the developing stage, it can be expected that we will see more information regarding its treatment in the coming days. However, the present treatment methods focus specifically on providing preventive healthcare and support.
The stages of treatments involve-
- Medications: Some medications are prescribed to treat visible symptoms. For example-
Using Antidepressants or sedatives for reducing psychological symptoms.
– Opiate medication for pain relief.
– Sodium Valproate to treat muscle spasms
- Physical Support: As the disease grows on the individual, they may need to take care of themselves and perform daily activities.
- Providing Proper Nutrition: It is important to provide proper hydration and nutrients to the patient.
One of the potential therapies that are being investigated involves the use of anti-prion antibodies. It could open a whole new dimension of how medical science approaches this challenge.
Maintaining wellness in the workplace can be a daunting challenge. Every day employers have to encounter various new challenges in their pursuit of providing a wholesome wellness experience. Although a lot is left to be known about this disease, employers must react on their feet and look for signs of disease in their workforce.
They must be supportive of their approach while dealing with employees with Prion disease. Facilitate them with the best possible healthcare facilities. Organizing some awareness programs regarding the disease will help in the early detection and preservation of employee health.
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