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Neurological disorder affects 11 workers at Austin pork processor

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

The Minnesota Health Department says 11 people who work at Quality Pork Processors Inc. in Austin have become ill during the past year with an "insidious onset" of neurological symptoms.

"Physicians at Austin Medical Center-Mayo Health System and Mayo Clinic have identified a cluster of patients with an undetermined autoimmune neurological disorder," says a statement released by Mayo late Monday.

State health officials have reported the condition as Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy.

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That illness generally starts after a trigger of some sort causes the immune system to attack itself, state and Mower County health officials said during a news conference Monday.

Proven triggers that can lead to Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy include the 1970s-era live flu vaccine (which no longer is used); Campylobacter from chicken; or an "assault" to the immune system such as pregnancy, dental work, diarrhea, the common cold or a sore throat, said Barbara Katzman, executive director of the Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy Foundation International. The illness is treatable, health officials said.

Mayo expects to "aid in the investigation" and "participate in the ongoing care of these patients."

Two workers temporarily were hospitalized but have returned home.

Minnesota health officials are unsure whether more than the initial 11 people affected eventually will come down with symptoms. But the cluster of cases is unusual.

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