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Close to 1,900 Cases of Vaping-Linked Lung Illness, CDC Says

HealthDay News
by By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter
Updated: Oct 31st 2019

new article illustration

THURSDAY, Oct. 31, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- The number of Americans stricken with a severe, sometimes fatal lung illness tied to vaping has now reached 1,888, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

That's a rise from the 1,604 case total from a week ago.

Currently, cases have been reported in every state except Alaska, the agency noted.

The related death toll has also risen by three over the past week, to 37 fatalities, spread across 24 states and the District of Columbia. Deaths have involved patients ranging from the ages of 17 to 75, with the average age being 49.

No new data on possible factors driving these illnesses was released in the new report. However, last week the CDC noted that 86% of cases involved products that contained THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Young men are being especially affected, with 70% of patients being male and 79% under the age of 35.

While THC remains a main suspect in the CDC's investigation, a recent study suggested other chemicals might play a role.

For example, researchers at the Mayo Clinic Arizona conducted an examination of 17 cases involving vaping-linked lung injury -- including lung biopsies. All of the patients examined had severe forms of the illness, and two had died.

"Based on what we have seen in our study, we suspect that most cases involve chemical contaminants, toxic byproducts or other noxious agents within vape liquids," said lead researcher Dr. Brandon Larsen. He's a surgical pathologist at the Mayo Clinic Arizona in Scottsdale.

Those findings were published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, has stressed that nicotine-containing vaping products without THC cannot be ruled out as a potential cause of harm. Because of that, the CDC recommendation for everyone to stop vaping still stands, she said.

What is clear is that the illnesses that are affecting vapers can be sudden and severe. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath and chest pains. Some patients have had so much trouble breathing that they wind up on oxygen, and in extreme cases are placed on a mechanical ventilator.

The CDC's updated numbers come two weeks after Juul -- the top-selling brand of electronic cigarettes in the United States -- announced that it would no longer sell fruit or dessert flavors of its products.

The company's decision comes as it faces widespread criticism that its flavored nicotine products are hooking a generation of teenagers on nicotine and vaping, the Associated Press reported.

The company also faces multiple investigations by U.S. Congress, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and several state attorneys general. Juul is also being sued by adults and underage vapers who allege they became addicted to nicotine by using Juul's products, the wire service said.

The Trump administration has also proposed banning nearly all e-cigarette flavors.

The flavors dropped by Juul will be mango, creme, fruit and cucumber, which account for 10% of its sales. The company will continue to sell its most popular flavors: mint and menthol, the AP reported.

Juul's decision to continue selling mint and menthol shows "it isn't serious about preventing youth use," said Matthew Myers, from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

"Juul knows that 64% of high school e-cigarette users now use mint or menthol flavors, and this number is growing all the time," Myers said in a statement.

His group and others say the Trump administration should ban all vaping flavors except tobacco, the AP added.

More information

The American Lung Association has more about vaping and lung health.