11 Pork Plant Workers Get Rare Illness

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 3 -- Eleven workers at an Austin, Minn., pork-processing plant mysteriously fell ill between last December and July with a neurological disorder whose cause remains unknown, state health officials said Monday.

The condition afflicting five of the workers at Quality Pork Processors has been identified as a rare disease called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), which normally strikes fewer than two people per 100,000. In this instance, it may have struck 11 out of about 100 people in a particular part of the plant, state officials said. It is most often a chronic disease that results in nerve damage and can lead to disability.

Never before have so many cases of this type occurred in a particular locale, specific type of work, or in association with a particular animal, experts said.

State health officials said there is no evidence to date of an increased risk to the public or that the food supply has been affected.

The 1,300-employee plant is a hog slaughtering and processing operation that makes meat products for Hormel Foods and other companies.

With CIDP, something -- perhaps a vaccine, virus or bacteria -- triggers the human immune system to attack the protective sheath that surrounds nerves, said Suraj Muley, an associate professor of neurology at the University of the Minnesota and an expert on the disease.

In the case of the affected workers, "the question is whether the animal might harbor bacteria or a virus that triggered it," Muley said.

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