US health officials are urging Americans to stop vaping while they investigate at least five deaths and over 450 cases of a serious lung illness which has cropped up in otherwise “healthy young people” who vape in over 33 states.
Hundreds of previously-healthy young people have been stricken with a rare, deadly and possibly-incurable lung disease called lipoid pneumonia since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began a multi-state probe into the mysterious epidemic, apparently linked to vaping, in August, according to a report released on Friday. Victims of the disease, usually caused by inhaling oil, suffer bouts of coughing, shortness of breath, vomiting, nausea and chest pain, often requiring hospitalization and oxygen.
Five deaths from the mysterious illness have been reported so far, three of them on Friday. In addition to deaths confirmed by the CDC in Illinois and Oregon, Indiana, Minnesota, and Los Angeles health officials announced additional deaths on Friday. The CDC is still investigating another case.
Aside from their use of e-cigarettes, the disease’s victims have little in common, sprinkled across 33 states and one US territory. Some vaped nicotine exclusively while others used THC, the active chemical in marijuana – but all vaped within the last 90 days, and the CDC is urging anyone who uses e-cigarettes to stop immediately until they can get to the bottom of this crisis.
“We’re all wondering if this is new or just newly recognized,” the CDC’s Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman told reporters on Friday. Doctors are still trying to figure out how to treat the condition – while patients were started on antibiotics in most cases, and some later treated with steroids, it’s not clear that these treatments helped the patients.
Over 120 samples have been analyzed, and while a few possible chemical culprits have been suggested – vitamin E acetate, present in many of the THC-containing products, was briefly highlighted – no one substance has been identified in all of them, according to Food and Drug Administration director Mitch Zeller.
E-cigarettes were ironically popularized as ‘healthy’ alternatives to smoking tobacco, but have become an “epidemic” unto themselves among youth, according to the CDC.