An Outbreak of Thyrotoxicosis Caused by the Consumption of Bovine Thyroid Gland in Ground Beef

Craig W Hedberg, Daniel B. Fishbein, Robert S. Janssen, Bruce Meyers, J. Michael McMillen, Kristine L. Macdonald, Karen E. White, Linda J. Huss, Eugene S. Hurwitz, Janet R. Farhie, Jerry L. Simmons, Lewis E. Braverman, Sidney H. Ingbar, Lawrence B. Schonberger, Michael T Osterholm

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107 Scopus citations


We report an outbreak of thyrotoxicosis without true hyperthyroidism that occurred between April 1984 and August 1985 among residents of southwestern Minnesota and adjacent areas of South Dakota and Iowa. One hundred twenty-one cases were identified through surveillance of medical clinics, laboratories, hospitals, and physicians' offices. Investigation of the outbreak demonstrated an association between the occurrence of thyrotoxicosis and the consumption of ground beef prepared from neck trimmings processed by a single slaughtering plant (odds ratio, 19.0; P = 0.0001). The cause was confirmed by the findings of bovine thyroid tissue in samples of these trimmings and high concentrations of thyroid hormone in implicated samples of ground beef and the demonstration of prompt increases in serum thyroid hormone concentrations in volunteers who ate the implicated ground beef. Bovine thyroid tissue had been introduced into the neck trimmings inadvertently during the process of “gullet trimming,” a procedure that harvests muscles from the bovine larynx. The outbreak resolved after this procedure was discontinued at the plant. The clinical features of the illness suggested the diagnosis of silent thyroiditis, and it is possible that sporadic cases — or even outbreaks — of thyrotoxicosis factitia caused by this mechanism may have occurred in the past but were not recognized. (N Engl J Med 1987; 316:993–8.), OUTBREAKS of thyrotoxicosis, the clinical syndrome associated with thyroid hormone excess, have been identified as resulting from iodide supplementation in populations with iodine-deficient goiter (jodbasedow disease).1,2 The cause of a nationwide epidemic of thyrotoxicosis that occurred in Denmark during World War II remains obscure,3 whereas an outbreak in Poland was apparently associated with consumption of sausage that contained porcine thyroid tissue.4 Between January and March 1984, an outbreak of thyrotoxicosis occurred in York County, Nebraska,5 where 54 cases were documented. The initial report of this outbreak identified no common vehicle of transmission or etiologic agent. We report the results of…

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)993-998
Number of pages6
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 16 1987


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