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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Eighteen pork plant workers in Minnesota, at least five in Indiana and one in Nebraska have come down with a mysterious neurological condition they appear to have contracted while removing brains from slaughtered pigs, U.S. researchers and health officials said on Wednesday.
They said the illness is a new disorder that causes a range of symptoms, from inflammation of the spinal cord to mild weakness, fatigue, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs.
"As far as we are aware it is a brand new disorder," said Dr. Daniel Lachance of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who presented his findings at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Chicago.
Although more often found in animals, if humans swallow the parasite eggs, the resulting larvae can sometimes penetrate the intestines and settle in the lungs, liver, or brain causing large cysts.
In humans the best known of the prion diseases is Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which reportedly affects around one person per million per year. In the United States this translates to 250-300 new cases per year. It is well known that CJD is very difficult to diagnose leading to speculation that the one case per million report may be incorrect. Most of the cases are "classical" or "sporadic" CJD (sCJD), occurring for no, as yet, known reason. The sporadic form accounts for approximately 85% of the cases, the familial form approximately 15%. There have also been a few cases which have occurred from contamination via medical procedures; this type is known as iatrogenic or Acquired CJD. Finally over the last few years, another type of Acquired CJD called variant (vCJD) has been identified in young people. vCJD has been linked to ingestion of beef tainted with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), most cases have occurred in the United Kingdom.