08 February 2008

Doctors Scratch Head Cheese Over Medical Mystery

Slaughterhouse workers get mysterious malady:

While the illness is similar to some known conditions, it does not match any exactly. Nor is the leading theory of its cause something medical researchers have studied. That is because the illness appears to be caused by inhaling microscopic flecks of pig brain.

One of the steps in that part of the operation involves removing the pigs' brains with compressed air forced into the skull through the hole where the spinal cord enters. The brains are then packed and sent to markets in Korea and China as food.

Investigators say there is no reason to suspect that either the brains or the pork cuts were contaminated. Their working hypothesis is that the harvesting technique -- known as "blowing brains" on the floor -- produces aerosols of brain matter. Once inhaled, the material prompts the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the pig brain compounds, but apparently also attack the body's own nerve tissue because it is so similar.

There is a lesson in this for all of us. If you're going to make head cheese, stick to the proper procedure.

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