The occupational disease in slaughterhouse workers who extract pig brains using compressed air is growing in number. It is still small because this process seems to be uncommon. We first discussed it last December when there were 11 cases and its origin was uncertain. It didn’t have an official name, although it was identified as a chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP). There were 11 cases then. In February we did a follow-up after CDC published a preliminary report that confirmed the relationship with the compressed air process in the original set of Minnesota patients (plus two more). Besides the plant in Minnesota, where it was discovered, a survey of larger US plants found only two others where compressed air was used to remove pig brains, one each in Nebraska and Indiana. Adding one case in Nebraska and five in Indiana to the now 18 confirmed cases in Minnesota, there are possibly as many as 24 cases.
CDC is naming what is an apparently new occupational disease, Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy, or PIN. The alarm was raised by a Spanish-speaking interpreter and plant nurses and followed up by a Mayo clinic neurologist, Dr. Daniel Lachance. The likely mechanism is thought to be autoimmune. A fine mist of pig brain tissue is inhaled and triggers the immune system to make antibodies which then cross-react with the worker’s own neural tissue. In a statement to the Associated Press Lachance said there was a unique pattern of antibodies in all the patients. Thus it isn’t a disease of animals spread to humans but an occupational disease.
The disease doesn’t sound nice:
Common symptoms include pain, weakness, fatigue and numbness. A unique pattern of antibodies has been found in all the patients, Lachance said.
Lachance said none of the patients have recovered completely, though all have improved or stabilized to a degree. He also said some have had relapses. Some of the patients have required only pain medication, while the most seriously ill have undergone drug treatments to suppress their immune systems. (AP)
In 1700 the father of occupational medicine, Bernardo Ramazzini, published s De morbis artificum diatriba (Diseases of Workers). Since then the list of diseases acquired during the course of employment has gotten steadily longer. Now we have yet another entry: Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy (PIN), a swine slaughterhouse workers disease.