An Illinois patient’s death may be the first in the U.S. tied to vaping

The individual was among 193 people who have reported lung injuries linked to e-cigarettes

Vaping materials

Officials are investigating the e-cigarette products and chemical components vaped by patients who went on to develop severe lung injuries.

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The death of an Illinois resident may be the first in the United States linked to vaping, state health officials announced August 23. The adult was among 193 patients who have been hospitalized nationwide with severe lung injuries. Although investigators don’t know the cause of the illnesses, which have been reported in the last two months, all of the patients had vaped.

Both the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are working with state health departments to investigate the cases, officials said at a news briefing also on August 23. An additional 40 cases have come to light in the last two days, bringing the total to 193, and the number of states affected has grown from 16 to 22.

All of the patients had reported using e-cigarettes before developing symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain (SN Online: 8/22/19). Most of the cases have been among adolescents and young adults. Many of the patients also said that they had used products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in the lead-up to their illnesses.

In reporting the death in Illinois, officials did not provide details of the case, nor say when the death occurred.

Officials emphasized that the investigations into possible links between lung injury and vaping are still in the early stages. The FDA has received product samples from a number of states. “We’re starting to analyze those samples … to see whether they contain nicotine, to see whether they contain substances such as THC or other cannabinoids or other chemicals,” said Mitch Zeller, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products in Silver Spring, Md. The agency is also looking at the different brands and technologies used in vaping products, he said.

“We do know that e-cigarettes do not emit a harmless aerosol,” said Brian King of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health in Atlanta. The available evidence indicates that a variety of ingredients in the aerosol “could be problematic in terms of pulmonary illness.”

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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