THE LATEST: A former meatpacker in Nebraska has the same neurological condition that has struck workers at pork processing plants in Minnesota and Indiana, and that sparked a nationwide disease investigation in November.
The Nebraska case is the first in that state. Like the other workers, the Nebraska meatpacker, who has not been identified, worked at a processing plant that uses a high pressure air system to remove brains from pigs, Nebraska health officials said.
HOW MANY AFFECTED: The newest case brings the total number of workers known to be affected to 14. Officials say that as the investigation continues to look into past workers at all three plants, they expect to find more cases.
SYMPTOMS: Those affected have reported fatigue, numbness and tingling in their arms and legs with a wide range of severity. Some have recovered and returned to work, while others are severely disabled. Officials are calling the condition progressive inflammatory neuropathy, or PIN.
WHERE: Most of those affected worked at Quality Pork Processors in Austin, Minn., where the condition was first recognized, and two have been identified in Indiana.
Nebraska officials declined to say which plant employed the meatpacker, but the only plant in the state that uses the high compression system is owned by Hormel Foods, based in Austin.
INQUIRY CONTINUES: State and federal health officials are looking into whether pig brain tissue, liquefied during removal by the air-compression system and sprayed into the air as droplets, somehow caused nerve damage in workers who were exposed to it. The brains are frozen in boxes and shipped to the southern United States and Asia, where they are sold as food.
All three plants stopped using the air compression system when the investigation began.
Investigators theorize that a protein or other substance from the animal brains triggered the workers' immune systems into mistakenly attacking their own nerve tissue.
Josephine Marcotty 612-673-7394