Just saw an email from Alex Thiermann. Of the twelve countries OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) has corresponded with (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, United Kingdom), none have observed anything similar to the newly identified brain illness that is linked, curiously, to the practice of blowing pig brains.
A recent cluster of unusual illness – causing swelling in the brain and sometimes leading to complete paralysis of the legs – has been discovered in otherwise healthy slaughterhouse workers in Minnesota and Indiana. All sick workers were exposed to an unusual technique of removing pig brains from their skulls using a compressed air device – a technique endearingly termed “blowing brains”. Investigation of the illness is still ongoing. However, laboratory tests have not yet found any infectious agent (virus, bacteria, etc.), that can be causing the disease. This outbreak of what has come to be known as Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy (PIN) was identified by state and local health departments, who engaged CDC to reach out into the international community to ask if this brain condition is occurring anywhere else.
The unsolved mystery of this interesting slaughterhouse practice, a job not for the weak of stomach, is how this somewhat “innovative” technique is linked to the onset of a progressive and debilitating brain condition. Current information suggests that brain tissue is being aerosolized during the process, and is either inhaled or absorbed through the skin. What happens after that is still poorly understood, but one possible explanation is that the human immune system begins to attack the foreign brain material and progresses to destroying its own brain cells, which are actually quite similar to pig cells. More information about the ongoing investigation can be found here: MMWR PIN.