Friday, February 08, 2008

“I always had brains on my arms”: A Medical Mystery in Minnesota

The New York Times ran an incredibly interesting (and disgusting) story about a mysterious illness striking workers at Quality Pork Processors in Minnesota. Denise Grady's piece "A Medical Mystery Unfolds In Minnesota" (here) describes an illness that ultimately struck 12 workers. A bit of epidemiological detective work led to the tentative conclusion that the thing all these workers had in common was "blowing brains," the process at the "head table" where hogs' brains are blasted out of their skulls with compressed air so that they can be barreled and sold overseas. As Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the Minnesota State Epidemiologist noted, this produces "aerosolization of brain tissue" which then created an immune system response in the workers exposed to it. The Times article is well worth reading in full. As it turns out, most of the workers are getting better now that steps have been taken to reduce the exposure to "aerosolized pig brains" and a course of treatment for the neurological symptoms has been discovered.

Image of Quality Pork Processors by Nate Howard for The New York Times.

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