An Illinois resident has died after being hospitalized with a severe respiratory illness that health officials believe is linked with vaping, the state’s Department of Public Health said Friday.
The death is the first recorded from a mystery illness that health officials are investigating to determine whether it is tied to e-cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that it was investigating 193 possible cases of severe lung illness linked to e-cigarette use in 22 states. The person who died in Illinois was an adult, said Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer for the state, on a call.
“The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,” Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said in a statement.
A surge in vaping by teenagers over the past few years has led to an outcry over the harmful effects nicotine can have on developing brains and the potential for e-cigarettes to cause a new generation of young people to take up cigarette smoking. The Food and Drug Administration has dialed up criticism of companies like Juul Labs Inc., which is part-owned by Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc., over marketing it says targets young people. Juul says its products are intended to help adult smokers quit cigarettes.
It’s possible the illness is not new but rather that it went undetected until vaping grew more popular, Brian King, deputy director of research translation in the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said on the call.
“We do know that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless so it is possible some cases may have already occurred,” he said.
The Illinois health agency noted that many patients told health professionals that they recently used vaping products that contain THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana. No specific product has been identified in the cases.
“The possibility of what can go into these cartridges is almost limitless, and that in and of itself creates a lot of variation in what we are seeing in a body’s reaction to vaping,” said Emily Chapman, chief medical officer of Children’s Minnesota, a hospital that has had several cases of lung injury related to vaping in the past month.
Many of the cases have followed a similar and frightening pattern, she said.
The patient appears to have a viral infection — with a fever, headache, muscle pain and an upset stomach — that quickly progresses into what appears to be pneumonia. But testing turns up no signs of an infection. Instead, the condition continues to progress, with increasing inflammation in the lungs to the point that they stop functioning properly. Several patients have been treated in the intensive care unit and even needed a ventilator to help them breathe.
“Even patients themselves have been stunned because there is this misconception that it’s safe,” Chapman said.
At Children’s Minnesota, there have been 11 patients thus far, with more showing up each day with symptoms of severe lung damage that doctors believe is linked to vaping. Some of them are in critical condition and fighting for their lives, Chapman said.
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