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1,299 Sick, 27 Dead from Mysterious Vaping Illness

photo of woman using vape pen

This story was updated  Oct. 10, Oct. 9, Oct. 7, Oct. 4, Oct. 3, Oct. 2, Oct. 1, Sept. 27, Sept. 26 and Sept. 24, 2019 with additional deaths from vaping-related illness.   

Sept. 26, 2019 -- Twenty-seven people have now died due to vaping-related illness in the U.S., as  UtahNew York and Massachusetts reported their first deaths and Georgia reported its second, California its third. 

In Utah, state health officials say a person under the age of 30 died at home from a vaping-related lung injury. The person had vaped THC, officials say. The death in New York was a 17-year-old male from the Bronx, and the Massachusetts death a woman in her 60s. The second death in Georgia was in a person who had a history of nicotine vaping.

Other recent deaths have included: 

  • In Connecticut, an adult between the ages of 30 and 39.
  • An adult male in Alabama.
  • An adult woman in New Jersey.
  • The person from Nebraska was over 65, health officials there said.  
  • The Virginia resident died in a North Carolina hospital.
  • The first Georgia death was in a patient with a history of heavy nicotine vaping, but no reported THC vaping history, the Department of Public Health said.
  • No details were given in the Florida, Pennsylvania or Delaware deaths.
  • Mississippi officials said only that a person under the age of 30 died from a vaping-related illness.
  • In Oregon, the state Health Authority said the second death there was an individual who had been vaping cannabis products. 

Cases of vaping-related lung illness in the U.S. have climbed to 1,299 as of Oct. 10, up from 1,080 the week before, the CDC said.  

The CDC on Friday said its investigation suggests, "THC products play a role in the outbreak." In a briefing with reporters, the agency said 77% of the people reported using products containing THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes users high. Still, agency officials said more information is needed. The ongoing investigation "may take a few months" and there likely will be "multiple causes and possibly more than one root cause," Anne Schuchat, MD, principal deputy director at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing with reporters on Friday.

On Sept. 30, Texas chain H-E-B said it had immediately discontinued sales of e-cigarettes. Walmart, the world's largest retailer, said it would stop selling all e-cigarettes once existing inventory runs out, CNBC reported this month.

“Given the growing federal, state and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes, we plan to discontinue the sale of electronic nicotine delivery products at all Walmart and Sam’s Club U.S. locations,” the company said in a memo to local managers. “We will complete our exit after selling through current inventory.”

The 1,080 confirmed cases are from 49 states and one territory. The 27 deaths are from 22 states. The patients who died range in age from 13 to 75 years old, the CDC said. The median age is 23 years. 

"No consistent e-cigarette product, additive, or brand has been identified in all cases," she said.

The update comes as new data reveal the rate of vaping nicotine among teens has doubled in the past 2 years. According to the 2019 Monitoring the Future Survey, 25% of 12th graders, 20% of 10th graders, and 9% of eighth graders reported vaping nicotine in the past month.

For its investigation, the FDA has collected more than 150 vaping product samples, according to Mitch Zeller, JD, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products. The agency is analyzing the samples for a broad range of substances, including THC and other cannabinoids, opioids, cutting agents, pesticides, and other toxins.

The FDA's enforcement arm -- the Office of Criminal Investigations -- has begun a parallel investigation, Zeller said. It will focus on the supply chain and figuring out what is making people sick.

He didn’t know when federal officials might determine which product or products are to blame.

"Identifying any product in the samples is just one piece of the puzzle," he said.

Emerging Profile

Based on data on the cases so far, nearly three-quarters of the cases are male and more than half are under 25 years of age, Anne Schuchat, MD, principal deputy director of the CDC, said. Patients typically report coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and belly pain.

"Some have reported the use of e-cigarettes using only nicotine." Others report using THC, or a combination, she said.

Patients may have been exposed to a variety of products, and some have been too ill to share information for the investigation, she said.

A growing number of media companies are shunning vaping advertisements. Following the lead of CNN, which announced it will no longer run ads for vaping products, CBS, WarnerMedia, and Viacom are also pulling the plug on e-cigarette advertising.

At least one state -- Massachusetts -- has banned the sale of all e-cigarettes for 4 months. Michigan, New York, Rhode Island and Washington state have all implemented temporary bans on the sale flavored e-cigarettes, while Utah has banned flavored vapes except in adult-only tobacco shops, according to Tobacco Free Kids. The Trump administration has also asked the FDA to ban the sale of non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Juul Labs, the largest vaping product maker in the United States, announced he was stepping down and the company said it would stop all advertising. Kroger and Walgreens have also stopped sales of e-cigarettes. 

Federal officials again pleaded for people to stop vaping until they know more about what is triggering the lung injuries.

Anyone with information is urged to report it to the online safety reporting portal for the FDA and National Institutes of Health, Zeller said, at www.safetyreporting.hhs.gov.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on September 19, 2019

Sources

Briefing, CDC, Sept. 19, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Researchers sound alarm on potential health effects of vaping.”

CNBC: “CBS, WarnerMedia, Viacom drop all e-cigarette advertising, including from market leader Juul.”

CNBC: "Walmart will stop selling e-cigarettes in the wake of vaping-related deaths."

Kansas Department of Health and Environment. 

Department of Health State of Florida, "Lung Injury Associated with E-Cigarette Use, or Vaping* - Florida."

Georgia Department of Public Health, "DPH Identifies First Death From Vaping-Associated Illness."

Mississippi State Department of Health, "Health Officials Report First Death Related to Vaping in Mississippi."

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. 

NewsWest9: " H-E-B discontinues the sale of e-cigarettes."

Virginia Department of Health.

Alabama Public Health.

CDC.gov, news release.

Delaware Division of Public Health. 

Connecticut Department of Public Health. 

Pennsylvania Department of Health. 

Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

New York State.

 

 

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