From today's New York Times:
A Medical Mystery Unfolds in Minnesota
By DENISE GRADY
Published: February 5, 2008
By then, November 2007, other cases had begun to turn up. Ultimately, there were 12 — 6 men and 6 women, ranging in age from 21 to 51. Doctors and the plant owner, realizing they had an outbreak on their hands, had already called in the Minnesota Department of Health, which, in turn, sought help from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though the outbreak seemed small, the investigation took on urgency because the disease was serious, and health officials worried that it might indicate a new risk to other workers in meatpacking.
“It is important to characterize this because it appears to be a new syndrome, and we don’t truly know how many people may be affected throughout the U.S. or even the world,” said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, a veterinarian from the disease centers.
In early November, Dr. Aaron DeVries, a health department epidemiologist, visited the plant and combed through medical records. The disease bore no resemblance to mad cow disease or to trichinosis, the notorious parasite infection that comes from eating raw or undercooked pork. Nor did it spread person to person — the workers’ relatives were unaffected — or pose any threat to people who ate pork.
A survey of the workers confirmed what the plant’s nurses had suspected: those who got sick were employed at or near the “head table,” where workers cut the meat off severed hog heads.
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