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At Least 18 Lung-Injury Deaths Tied to Vaping

While many victims used THC, the cause remains elusive

As the number of lung-injury cases linked to vaping topped 1,000—including at least 18 deaths—the cause remained a mystery despite a widening investigation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that people stop using e-cigarette products, especially those containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 

“I think we really have the feeling right now that there may be a lot of different nasty things in e-cigarette or vaping products.  And they may cause different harms in the lung,” said CDC Principle Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, MD.  She added that it is “pretty much impossible for you to know what is in the e-cigarette or vaping product that you are getting, particularly THC-containing products bought off the street or from social sources.”

"The CDC cautions taht THC-containing or nicotine-containing vaping products purchased legally could contain harmful substances," reported the Wall Street Journal. "It is difficult for consumers to know what is in these products, and full ingredient lists are typically not available." 

The number of lung illnesses associated with e-cigarette use rose by 275 in just a week, a combination of new patients and new reporting of previously identified cases. The illnesses are “really serious,” and doctors aren’t sure how well people will recover from them, Dr. Schuchat said.

Most patients are male (about 70%), and most are young (about 80% are under 35). About 78% report using THC-containing products, 37% report using only THC-containing products, 58% report using nicotine-containing products, and 17% report using only nicotine-containing products.

No single product or substance has been tied to all cases, said Judy McMeekin, PharmD, Deputy Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs at the FDA. “We are leaving no stone unturned in following all potential leads regarding any particular product, constituent, or compound that may be at issue,” she said.

The CDC has sent staff to several states to assist with the investigation, worked with doctors to increase awareness of the illness, and consulted with clinical professional societies to help strengthen detection, reporting, and management of cases. The FDA has received or collected more than 440 samples from 18 states, with more arriving daily. 

Source: CDC/FDA briefing, October 4, 2019

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