Leukemia in Luzerne

Pitt researchers to follow up on blood disorder cluster

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Luis Fabregas is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer and can be reached at 412-320-7998 or via e-mail.

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Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health are investigating a cluster of a rare and potentially serious blood disorder in Eastern Pennsylvania, officials said on Monday.

Concerns about an illness known as polycythemia vera and other blood disorders prompted a similar investigation in 2008 that found a high rate of the illness in Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties.

"We're doing this study to see if the cluster remains," said Dr. Jeanine Buchanich, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the graduate school. "We felt it warranted further follow-up."

Polycythemia vera is a bone marrow disease that leads to an abnormal increase in the number of red blood cells. The illness can lead to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Symptoms include difficulty breathing when lying down, dizziness, excessive bleeding, headaches and fullness in the left upper abdomen.

The investigation is being funded by the state Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. While the cause of the illness is not known, medical researchers have looked at potential environmental risk factors, Buchanich said.

Research has shown exposure to chemicals such as benzene, embalming fluid, petroleum products or radiation could cause the illness.

Investigators will be at several locations Wednesday through Friday to interview residents who have been diagnosed with the illness or suspect they have it. Participants will receive a $50 gift card.

"Everybody needs to participate because we need to know why there is so much PV and leukemia," said John Kolbush, a member of a resident-led organization, the Community Action Committee.

Investigators will participate in a meeting of the action committee on Thursday. For more information, call 866-621-1172.

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Pitt researchers to follow up on blood disorder cluster - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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