CDC investigating ‘unusual cancer cluster’ at prestigious North Carolina hospital lab after 12 employees are diagnosed with the disease

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Nearly a dozen lab employees have been diagnosed with cancer in last 20 years
  • More than 1000 former workers could also be at risk  
  • READ MORE:  15 cancer cases, 7 dead along two-mile stretch in rural Minnesota

Health officials have launched a probe into an ‘unusual’ cluster of cancer cases among employees of a research facility run by a major US healthcare provider.

Four people currently working in a lab at UNC Health in North Carolina, and 10-12 former employees are thought to have been affected by the disease over the last two decades, according to employees. 

Due to the ‘possible pattern’ in the cancer diagnoses, all medical students, staff and lab workers received warnings last month – and the Centers for Disease Control will now begin an official investigation. 

The institution estimates that over the last 20 years, more than 1,000 people have worked in the lab – McLendon Clinical Laboratories, which is located on the first floor of the main UNC Health hospital in Chapel Hill. 

UNC Health is a prominent healthcare system in North Carolina

Hospital leadership is attempting to contact all current and former lab employees and has not revealed how many cases of cancer have been diagnosed in people who work or worked at the lab.

Stephen Finch, the vice president of operations at UNC Health, told The Daily Tar Heel that hospital leadership is unsure if there is a correlation between lab activity and the cancer diagnoses. 

People who work in the lab studied blood and tissue samples, as well as pathology test results. While the investigation is ongoing, the lab will remain open and conduct its work. 

A spokesperson for UNC health told DailyMail.com the system does not have access to employees’ medical records to confirm their health status and the investigation was prompted solely from reports individuals. 

Following the reports, UNC Hospitals leadership contacted the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services seeking an assessment of the situation by the state’s occupational and environmental epidemiology staff. 

UNC also submitted a request for a health hazard evaluation from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

A health hazard evaluation is a study of a workplace to learn whether the workers are exposed to dangerous materials or harmful conditions.  

Representatives from NCDHHS visited UNC Hospitals on Jan. 23, to asses the lab space. A full report is expected within three weeks. 

Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health accepted UNC Hospitals’ request for an assessment of the lab, which began on Monday. 

The hospital is currently awaiting further details.

The spokesperson added: ‘UNC Health is committed to working closely with the appropriate agencies throughout this process and communicating proactively and transparently with our teammates and community. 

‘We plan to share more information as it becomes available. Our mission is to improve the health and well-being of all North Carolinians, including our teammates across the state.’

The CDC’s website for unusual patterns of cancer states patterns could be a result of behavioral risks, social determinants of health, occupational exposures and environmental exposures. 

Some of these patterns may be classified as a cancer ‘cluster,’ defined as ‘a greater than expected number of the same or etiologically related cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a defined period of time.’

UNC Health is a not-for-profit healthcare system owned by the state of North Carolina. It includes hospitals and medical facilities throughout the state and is based in Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

UNC Health hospitals have been nationally ranked among the top 10 hospitals in the United States. 

The system is comprised of 15 hospitals, 19 hospital campuses and more than 900 clinics, along with the clinical patient care programs of the UNC School of Medicine.

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