Quality Pork Processor Worker Neurological Illnesses Update

Quality Pork Processor Worker Neurological Illnesses Update

The Minnesota Department of Health has learned that the Indiana Department of Health and CDC are investigating illnesses in several plant workers at a pig slaughtering plant in Indiana to determine if their illnesses are similar to what has been found in Minnesota.

MDH continues to investigate a cluster of neurological illnesses in workers at a pork slaughtering facility in Austin. To date Minnesota has identified 12 people that share similar symptoms and workplace exposures. The illnesses are characterized by changes in sensation and weakness in the limbs. MDH is working closely with clinicians to identify other possible cases.

MDH, CDC and other partners are investigating a possible role for a procedure that uses high-pressure air to remove brains from the swine head. The procedure using compressed air to harvest swine brain tissue was in both the Minnesota and the Indiana plants. Other plants are also being investigated by CDC and other state agencies.

The potential role of this procedure is not yet known. The cases of illness in Minnesota have an association with working in the area where portions of the head are harvested, including but not limited to harvesting brain tissue. Out of an abundance of caution, pork processing plants in Minnesota, Indiana and Nebraska that have used this high-pressure compressed air technique have voluntarily stopped using it.

Extensive viral and bacteriological testing to find a cause for the illnesses continues. To date, no viral pathogens have been identified. Similarly, bacterial cultures have yielded no conclusive results. MDH is partnering with investigators at CDC, NIOSH, the Indiana Department of Health, the Nebraska Department of Health, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and others to determine the cause of these illnesses.

MDH will continue to provide updates as more is learned.

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