‘Pig brain mist’ disease examined

06-03-2009 | |

24 pork plant workers who developed a mysterious neurological disorder whilst working closely with aerosolised pig brains have recovered their health.

During a presentation at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual conference it was explained that in 2006 three workers at the Quality Pork Processors plant in Minnesota reported strange and similar symptoms: fatigue, numb and tingling legs, pain, difficulty walking. Over the following months, the number of cases rose to 24, and past cases of a similar condition were uncovered at a meat processing plant in Indiana.

Pig brain processing
Doctors struggled to find the cause, but both plants were among a total of three in the country to process pig brains for consumption — and each of the 24 workers at the Minnesota plant worked in the “head table” room.

At the head table, pig heads were cut open and the brains forced out with a burst of compressed air. In the process – which took place roughly 1,400 times an hour – some of the brains were blown into a fine mist. Not all workers were afflicted but the closer people stood to the table, the more likely they were to be.

Immune system
The workers’ immune systems mistakenly targeted their own nerves. Most responded to treatment with immunotherapy and steroids, and six improved without any treatment at all.

The rash of cases emerging so suddenly is yet to be explained. The factory shut down the pig brain processing centre soon after the disease emerged, and no new cases have been reported.

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