First Likely Vaping Death Reported in US

Megan Brooks

August 23, 2019

An individual who had recently vaped and was hospitalized with severe respiratory illness in Illinois has died, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today in a news briefing. 

It's the first death potentially linked to e-cigarette use.

In an update to an ongoing investigation, the CDC said today that, as of August 22, there are 193 potential cases of severe lung disease in 22 states that could be caused by e-cigarettes and vaping. That's 40 more cases than a day earlier, when the CDC reported a total of 153 possible cases, as reported by Medscape Medical News. 

Symptom Severity "Alarming"

The cases have been primarily among adolescents and young adults. The IDPH has not released the name, age, or gender of the individual who died.

During the briefing, Jennifer Layden, MD, PhD, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for the IDPH, said Illinois currently has 22 cases of severe, unexplained respiratory symptoms after vaping and is investigating an additional 12 possible cases. The patients range in age from 17 to 38 years (median age, 23) and most are men. 

"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," IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike, MD, said in a statement.

Ileana Arias, PhD, acting deputy director for non-infectious diseases at the CDC, noted that in many cases, patients reported a gradual start of symptoms, including breathing difficulty, shortness of breath, and/or chest pain before hospitalization. Some patients reported mild to moderate gastrointestinal illness (including vomiting and diarrhea) as well as fatigue.

"Available evidence does not suggest that an infectious disease is the principal cause of the severe lung illness," said Arias.

Many patients also said they had recently used tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing products, although there was no specific product in common among all cases, nor was any product "conclusively linked to the illnesses," she added.

"While some cases in each of the states are similar and appear to be linked to e-cigarette product use, more information is needed to determine what is causing these illnesses," Arias said.

Mitch Zeller, JD, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said the agency is current testing product samples provided by a number of states to see which chemicals they contain.

"We do know that e-cigarettes do not emit a harmless aerosol," said Brian King, PhD, MPH, deputy director of research translation at the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. 

"The available science does suggest a variety of harmful and potentially harmful ingredients in e-cigarette aerosol, including many that could be harmful in terms of pulmonary illness. But at present we haven't isolated a specific source," King said during the briefing.

Zeller encouraged clinicians and the public to submit "as detailed reports as possible of any unexpected tobacco or e-cigarette-related health or product issues to FDA via our online safety reporting portal." 

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