Neuro Illness in Pork Plant Under Official Investigation

US - The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is investigating a cluster of 11 cases of neurological illness in workers at Quality Pork Processors, Inc. (QPP) in Austin, Minn.
calendar icon 5 December 2007
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MDH was contacted about a month ago about following a pattern of cases of neurological illnesses that appeared to have developed in the QPP workplace.

QPP staff and physicians in the Austin and Rochester area immediately began reviewing clinical findings, interviewing workers for potential exposures and inspecting the plant.

The first cases developed symptoms in December 2006 and the others developed symptoms during the period up to July 2007. Although, MDH learned last week of an additional affected person who was hospitalized.

QPP is cooperating with the investigation, which is still underway. To date, a specific cause has not been identified. Health officials are in Austin today to continue the investigation and brief employees, together with QPP officials.

Public not at risk
“All of the information we have to date indicates that the general public is not at increased risk for developing this type of illness,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Sanne Magnan. “Also, there is no evidence that the food supply has been affected.”

The symptoms of the illness are recognized over several weeks to months and are characterized by muscle weakness and abnormal sensation. In some cases the muscle weakness has been severe. The illnesses appear to be an inflammatory neurological disease, and in five of the cases the diagnosis was consistent with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. Two individuals were hospitalized. All individuals have now been released and are in various stages of recovery or rehabilitation. There have been no fatalities.

The eleven cases had worked in the swine heads or organs processing department of the palnt. Thus far in the investigation, none of the cases had apparent associations outside of the workplace.

“This is a very unusual occurrence,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist for MDH. “We are working very hard together with QPP and many partners in public health, environmental health, medicine, veterinary medicine, agriculture, and the swine industry to determine the cause.”

QPP has implemented additional precautionary measures at the plant in conjunction with advice from MDH. Investigators are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and alerting colleagues in the rest of the country to determine if cases are being seen in workers in other pork processing plants around the United States.

MDH has agreed to provide updates on these illnesses as new information becomes available.

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