Vaping-related illnesses surge as officials search for the cause

Vaping-related illnesses surge as officials search for the cause
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The number of people nationwide who have contracted a lung illness linked to vaping has climbed to 530, with seven confirmed deaths, and federal health officials on Thursday said they still don’t know what is making people sick.

The number of illnesses has spiked dramatically from the 380 patients identified last week. Patients have been found in 38 states and one territory.

“I wish we had more answers,” said Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The vaping-related lung injuries … are serious. People are dying.” 

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Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, said the agency’s criminal enforcement arm has begun an investigation focused “on the supply chain,” but would not go into more specifics. 

Zeller stressed the agency is not pursuing any prosecutions associated with personal use of controlled substances. 

Schuchat said the seven deaths, a number she expects to rise, have been reported across six states. 

Officials said they have yet to identify any one consistent e-cigarette or vaping product, brand or substance linked to all the illnesses.

Some patients “may have been exposed to a variety of products and substances, may not know the contents or sources of these products and in some instances, may be reluctant or too ill to disclose all the details of interest,” Schuchat said of the challenging case.

Most patients reported vaping THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana. Many reported vaping both THC and nicotine products, while others just said they vaped nicotine.

According to the CDC, more than half of the people who have become sick are younger than 25, and 16 percent are younger than 18. Officials said nearly three-quarters of the patients are males. 

The new cases come as preliminary federal data has shown the number of teens who reported vaping has doubled in the past two years, including 20 percent of 10th grade students who said they vaped in the past month.