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Swine of the times

(article, Caroline Cummins)

Once, there was E. coli. Then came mad-cow disease. Now we have the latest in the medical-mystery genre: The Case of the Insidious Pig-Brain Allergy.

As reported (with gripping pacing) by the New York Times, workers at a Quality Pork processing plant in Minnesota have begun falling ill with a strangely intense set of symptoms affecting the immune system: fatigue, pain, weakness. The apparent common link between the workers? They all worked at the "head table," using compressed air to force pig brains out of the animals' skulls.

Because no reporters, naturally, are allowed inside the processing plant, the article has only one photo, an overhead shot of the plant. But the descriptions of working at the "head table" are gruesome enough, featuring more splattered brains than a B-grade horror movie. The use of compressed air, it seems, makes brain tissue "aerosolize," which, in a factory where the workers aren't wearing face masks, is something you'd really rather not breathe.

Health officials theorized that "exposure to the hog brain itself might have touched off an intense reaction by the immune system, something akin to a giant, out-of-control allergic reaction." 

Revenge of the pigs, perhaps.