Tuesday, February 05, 2008

More Grisly Details in Mystery Illness Case

New details are available this week from the NY Times on a mystery illness discussed at Pound360 last month. You may recall that, folks working at slaughter houses were coming down with a mysterious neurological disorder. According to the Times, the disorder leaves victims with a “highly unusual set of symptoms,” including “fatigue, pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the legs and feet.”

Specifically affected are workers at the “head table,” where pig heads are hacked into pieces (at a rate of 1,100 heads per hour).

At the head table, a procedure described as “blowing brains” is suspect in the case. This process involves “high pressure blasts of compressed air” used to force a “slurry” of brain matter from severed pig heads, reports the Times. The process is pretty messy. “I always had brains on my arms,” said one air hose operator.

But it’s probably not brains on the skin that are causing the mysterious disorder. Instead, aerosolized brain matter, inhaled or possibly absorbed through the eyes, seeps into the blood stream. At that point, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive attacking some the brain matter, or something in it, possibly a pathogen of some kind.

The problem is, pig anatomy is a lot like people anatomy. So there may be similarities between our biochemical structures (specifically in our nerve tissue) as well. If that’s the case, when particles from the pig’s nervous system reach a victim’s blood stream, their body’s immune system response may wreak havoc on it’s own immune system.

According to one expert quoted by the Times, “that’s the beauty and the beast of the immune system… It’s so efficient at keeping foreign objects away, but anytime there’s a close match it turns against us, too.”

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.