Monday, February 4, 2008

Pig Brain

The New York Times published a story about pig brains and a strange illness that causes symptoms that appear to involve nerve damage. All of the afflicted patients worked at Quality Pork Processors, using (or near the person using) compressed air used to blow out pig brain. From the article:

Her most recent job was "backing heads," scraping meat from between the vertebrae. Three people per shift did that task, and together would process 9,500 heads in eight or nine hours. Ms. Kruse (pronounced KROO-zee) stood next to the person who used compressed air to blow out the brains. She was often splattered, especially when trainees were learning to operate the air hose.

"I always had brains on my arms," she said.

She never had trouble with her health until November 2006, when she began having pains in her legs. By February 2007, she could not stand up long enough to do her job. She needed a walker to get around and was being treated at the Mayo Clinic.

What causes these symptoms? Currently, investigators believe in "a seemingly bizarre theory: that exposure to the hog brain itself might have touched off an intense reaction by the immune system, something akin to a giant, out-of-control allergic reaction." I wonder what other substances have this effect on humans?

According to the article, the blown-out brain is shipped to China and the "American South" (where people like to eat blown brain with eggs).

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