MINNESOTA: Mayo, state researchers release paper on illness caused by pig-brain tissue
Posted: November 30th, 2009 - 10:58am
A scientific paper addressing a unique occupational autoimmune illness contracted by people working in an Austin, Minn., slaughterhouse is scheduled to go online Monday night.
Some people working in the pig-brain harvesting area of Quality Pork Processors in Austin became ill, as did people doing the same job at two other U.S. plants.
"It is highly likely that the (human) body's immune system reacted to several different components from the brain tissue and produced this disorder," said Mayo Clinic neurologist Dr. Dan Lachance.
Researchers from Mayo and the Minnesota Department of Health published the paper in The Lancet Neurology. They believe a forced-air process of harvesting pig brains led to ills at Quality Pork Processors, Indiana Packers Corp. in Delphi, Ind. and Hormel Foods Corp. in Fremont, Neb.
Affected workers' immune systems attacked the airborne pig-brain tissue as a foreign invader. However, their immune systems also attacked their bodies' nervous systems because human and pig tissue are similar, said Lachance, a co-author of the paper. The chance of developing symptoms increased in proportion to how close someone worked to the brain-harvest area, he said.
"We tried to identify the position where they spent most of their time most of the preceding months, and then calculated the distance from that post to where the brain extraction occurred," Lachance said. The calculation was inexact because workers sometimes traded places to fill in for each other.
All three plants stopped the brain-harvest technique once illnesses were linked.