33 Dead, Nearly 1,500 Now Affected by Vaping Lung Disease

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Cases of lung disease related to vaping continue to rise. Getty Images
  • Vaping-related illnesses and deaths in the United States continue to rise, even as health officials still search for answers.
  • The youngest person to die from the vaping-related illness was just 13.
  • The disease has put major e-cigarette companies under scrutiny, although it’s unclear what’s causing the outbreak.

Lung injuries and deaths linked to the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping products, have continued to rise, with federal health officials still searching for answers to this mysterious illness.

As of October 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 1,479 vaping-related lung injury cases, with 33 deaths.

One of those who died from the illness was a 13 year old from New York, officially the youngest person to have died during this outbreak.

Cases have been reported in all states except Alaska, along with the District of Columbia and one U.S. territory. Deaths have been confirmed in 24 states, with more being investigated.

This is an increase from the 1,299 cases and 26 deaths announced last week.

Products containing THC, the compound in cannabis that produces a “high,” remain a leading culprit behind the illnesses, reports the CDC. Those obtained off the street or from other informal sources are of particular concern.

About 78 percent of patients reported using THC-containing products in the 3 months prior to the start of their symptoms. However, 10 percent reported using only nicotine-containing products.

This is based on 849 cases where information on the vaping products used was available.

Because federal and state health officials are still investigating the cause of these illnesses, “the only way to assure that you are not at risk while the investigation continues is to consider refraining from use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products,” says the CDC on its website.

People affected by these illnesses range in age from 13 to 75 years old. But 79 percent are under age 35. The average age of those who have died is 44.

The agency continues to work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), states, and health providers to track and investigate this outbreak.

The CDC has also expanded its laboratory testing to include lung fluid, blood and urine samples from patients, as well as lung biopsy and autopsy specimens.

In addition, the agency is testing the vapor of e-cigarette products that have been involved in these cases to look for potentially harmful compounds.

Earlier this week, the CDC also released new guidance for clinicians on this vaping-related condition, and has given it a new name: e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI).

The new document provides guidance on the diagnosis, management, and follow-up of vaping-related illnesses.

It also recommends that during the flu season, doctors should consider testing all patients suspected of having EVALI for influenza and other respiratory illnesses.

This is partly out of caution.

“It is unknown if patients with a history of EVALI are at higher risk for severe complications of influenza or other respiratory viral infections if they are infected simultaneously or after recovering from lung injury,” states the new guidance.

But it’s also because symptoms of EVALI are similar to those for flu and other respiratory illnesses — including cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, fatigue, and hazy spots on an X-ray.

“It is currently very hard for us to tell the difference between pneumonia and vaping-related lung injury,” said Dr. Alicia Briggs, chair of pediatrics at Norwalk Hospital and a pediatric hospitalist at Connecticut Children’s.

Recent research in mice has also found that exposure to e-cigarette vapor can impair the lungs’ ability to fight viral infections like the flu. More research is needed to know whether people who vape are also at higher risk.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older — including those with a history of EVALI — get an annual flu shot.

From 2017 to 2018, current e-cigarette use among high school students Food and Drug Administration (FDA)” rationale=”Governmental authority”>rose from 11.7 to 20.8 percent, reports the FDA.

This trend has even shown up as large amounts of e-cigarette waste found in the garbage at several San Francisco Bay Area high schools, as reported by another CDC study. This included a large number of flavored e-cigarette pods.

Flavored e-cigarettes are very popular among younger people. Health“>Research shows that menthol, mint, and other flavors are also linked to young people starting to use e-cigarettes.

Today the popular e-cigarette maker JUUL announced they’re halting sales of fruit and “dessert” nicotine pods due to a “lack of trust” from the public. They’ll still sell mint and menthol flavoring.

Given the sharp rise in youth vaping and vaping-related lung injuries, Briggs thinks it’s important for parents to talk to their children about the risks of vaping.

“You should explicitly state to your children that you want them to stay away from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, because they’re not safe for them,” said Briggs.

She recommends resources like the CDC’s tip sheet on how to talk to youth about e-cigarettes, as well as the child’s pediatrician and school.

But “number one,” said Briggs, “you should set a good example for your kids and not use vaping or tobacco-related products yourself.”

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