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Three people have died of a mysterious lung illness linked to vaping as cases skyrocket

CDC encourages people to stop vaping as investigation continues


Federal officials announced today that over 450 people across 33 states and the US Virgin Islands have come down with a deadly lung illness that has been linked to e-cigarette use. That more than doubles the total number of reported cases nationwide — last week, the total stood at 215 possible cases in 25 states.

Officials in Indiana also announced today that a person in their state has died of the disease, bringing the nationwide death toll from the illness to three. The outbreak of the mysterious lung disease is one of two ongoing public health investigations related to e-cigarettes. In addition to trying to uncover the cause of the lung disease, the Food and Drug Administration is also collecting reports on possible seizures related to e-cigarette use.

“We are committed to finding out what is making people sick,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement. “All available information is being carefully analyzed, and these initial findings are helping us narrow the focus of our investigation and get us closer to the answers needed to save lives.”

The exact cause of the illness remains unknown, but investigators think that it is likely related to a chemical exposure, instead of an infectious agent. The New York State Department of Health announced yesterday that a chemical called vitamin E acetate had become “a key focus” of their investigation, and had been found in “nearly all cannabis-containing samples” that the state had tested.

But the investigation is far from over, and vitamin E acetate is one of several possible suspects that authorities are looking into as they try to find the cause of this lung disease.

“Our laboratory is working closely with our federal and state partners to identify the products or substances that may be causing the illnesses and have received more than 120 samples from the states so far,” acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a statement. “The FDA is analyzing these for a broad range of chemicals but no one substance, including Vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples tested. Importantly, identifying any compounds present in the samples will be one piece of the puzzle but won’t necessarily answer questions about causality, which makes our ongoing work critical.”

In the meantime, health experts are urging people to step away from the vapes. “While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products,” Dana Meaney-Delman, the head of the CDC’s investigation into the illness, said in a briefing, according to The New York Times.

As the investigation continues, a series of articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) today looked deeper into the problem. One article gave a clearer idea of the demographics of the disease, by focusing in on 53 cases reported in Wisconsin and Illinois. The numbers paint a harsh picture.

The researchers found that of the cases, 83 percent were male, and the average age of the patients was just 19 years old. Eighty-four percent of the patients reported using tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC) before their symptoms set in. Nearly all of them suffered from respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, and 94 percent were hospitalized. One of them died.

An editorial in the NEJM by David Christiani, a professor of medicine at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, echoed the CDC’s recent push to discourage people from using e-cigarettes. Christiani said that “efforts should be made to increase public awareness of the harmful effect of vaping, and physicians should discourage their patients from vaping.”

Chemical contaminant identified as ‘key focus’ of investigation into vaping illness

It has not confirmed reports that it is narrowing its focus to vitamin E acetate

 US officials are working to track down a chemical contaminant that is potentially behind a rash of lung illnesses connected to vaping.

The Washington Post reported that while the investigation was ongoing, some state investigators had identified a potential lead: oil derived from vitamin E. Vitamin E can be found in almonds and avocados, and the oil is commonly used in beauty products and nutritional supplements. But inhaling it could pose risks. It acts like a grease coating a vaper’s lungs, Bryn Mawr College chemistry professor Michelle Francl told the Post.

The Washington Post reported that officials conducting an investigation at the Food and Drug Administration found vitamin E acetate in cannabis products used by those with the illness. The substance was also present in almost all the cannabis products used by sick patients in New York where 34 people have come down with the severe lung illness.

Investigators were also looking into contaminants and bootleg vape products as potential culprits. On Thursday, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement that vitamin E acetate became “a key focus” because it isn’t an approved additive for medical marijuana vape samples and wasn’t present in the nicotine products health authorities tested. The statement said vitamin E acetate was present in “very high levels” in “nearly all cannabis-containing samples” tested by the state.

But the investigation is far from over, and there are many other potential culprits out there. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a press release on September 6th saying that it is looking into a broad range of chemical contaminants since infectious disease has been ruled out. It clarified that no one substance — including vitamin E acetate — had been found in all of the 120 samples it has collected, and they were sent to the FDA for testing.

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