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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Pitt Scientists to Investigate Rare Blood Disorder in Eastern Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 15, 2011– An investigation in a tri-county area of eastern Pennsylvania may reveal whether there is a continuing cluster of a rare blood disorder that leads to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes and has no known cause.

Investigators from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health will travel to various spots in Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties Aug. 17 to 19 to provide information about polycythemia vera (PV) and related blood disorders known as myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). Investigators would like to interview residents who have been diagnosed with, or suspect they have, PV or MPNs.

PV is a rare illness that causes the body to make too many red blood cells, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Its cause is not known, but the ATSDR reports that studies published more than 25 years ago indicated exposure to chemicals such as benzene, embalming fluid, petroleum products or radiation could cause PV. MPNs include essential thrombocythemia, primary myelofibrosis and chronic myeloid leukemia.

This investigation, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and ATSDR, will run through the fall of 2012 and is a follow up to a 2008 study. It’s designed to get a better idea of the true rate of PV and MPNs in the area. Investigators plan to return to the area in September.

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

Investigators are willing to schedule appointments to meet with potential participants at various times and locations. In addition, researchers have scheduled the following drop-in dates:

  • 2 to 5 p.m., Aug. 17 at Hazleton General Hospital
  • 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Aug. 18 at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Center in Wilkes-Barre
  • 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Aug. 18 at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Center in Pottsville
  • 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Aug. 19 at the Hazleton General Hospital

Participants will receive a $50 gift card for their time.

The investigators also will participate in a Community Action Committee meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 18. This meeting is open to the public and all interested people are encouraged to attend.

For more information or to visit with the investigators, contact Jeanine Buchanich, Ph.D., or Kristen Mertz, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Pittsburgh at 1-866-621-1172.

For more information on PV and the earlier study of the tri-county area, visit www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/polycythemia_vera/index.html.

About the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

Faculty at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), founded in 1948 and now one of the top-ranked schools of public health in the United States, conduct research on public health and medical care that improves the lives of millions of people around the world. GSPH is a leader in devising new methods to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases, HIV/AIDS, cancer and other important public health problems. For more information about GSPH, visit the school’s website

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