The Vaping Illness Outbreak: What We Know So Far
September 26, 2019
An outbreak of severe lung disease among users of electronic cigarettes continues to spread to new patients and states, and public health officials say it's too soon to point to a cause.
According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 805 cases have been reported in 46 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The CDC has confirmed 12 deaths, in 10 states. Nearly three-quarters of cases are male and 83% are under the age of 35, out of the 373 cases for which the CDC has complete data.
Public health officials are taking urgent steps to identify what is causing previously healthy vape users to develop pneumonia-like symptoms. But the results are still inconclusive.
In a press briefing on Sept. 19, the CDC reported that states continue to see new cases. "It is an ongoing outbreak," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director.
Here's what we know so far about the outbreak.
What seems to be causing the illness?
The CDC suspects "chemical exposure," but experts have not yet identified a specific agent as the culprit. There is no definitive link to any brand of device, ingredient, flavor or substance. The outbreak has affected users of both THC- and nicotine-containing products, but it is more prevalent among THC vapers than users who self-report using only nicotine products. Because a large number of the patients reported combining nicotine products with THC or CBD products, some researchers are looking into whether the illness may be a result of mixing substances.
In all confirmed cases, patients reported vaping within 90 days of developing symptoms, and most had vaped within a week of symptom onset. Patients with confirmed cases have been tested to rule out infections that could explain their symptoms. There is no indication that the outbreak is contagious.
What are the symptoms?
Patients report experiencing rapid onset of coughing, weight loss and significant breathing difficulties. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms generally appear over the course of a few days but can take as long as a few weeks to arise. The majority of patients are hospitalized, and while many of their symptoms overlap, their various diagnoses have included lipoid pneumonia (which can occur when oil enters the lungs), acute eosinophilic pneumonia (caused by the buildup of a type of white blood cell in the lungs) and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
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