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CDC addresses recent surge of lung illnesses potentially related to vaping

As of Friday, CDC officials said they are looking into nearly 200 cases that could be connected to vaping.

DALLAS — The CDC held a briefing Friday after health officials said the death of an Illinois patient could be linked to vaping. This would be the first death in the United States tied to the smoking alternative, officials say. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health said in a news release that the patient, who was between 17 and 38 years old, had been hospitalized after falling ill following vaping. 

Earlier this week, health officials confirmed the number of breathing illnesses reported among people who vape is growing. 

During Friday's call, CDC said officials said they were looking into 193 possible cases in 22 different states, including Texas.  

Texas health officials said there are at least two confirmed cases in the state as of Friday, 7 are suspected. 

At this time, officials haven't identified any specific product or substance as the cause or identified vaping as the cause. 

The FDA, however, is testing products that were used by sick patients to see if there's a common link in any e-cig compounds or if those compounds are illegal in nature. 

Some recurring e-cig compounds aren't harmless and can contain heavy metals, cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds, and some flavoring that might cause pulmonary issues. 

Health officials with the State of Texas asked anyone who had a sudden unexplainable respiratory illness to record everything about it and to keep their e-cig for possible testing by the FDA.  

Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. So far infectious diseases have been ruled out.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pains, and some patients have experienced vomiting and diarrhea. 

The possible cases were reported in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin from June 28, 2019, to Aug. 20, 2019. 

During Friday's briefing, CDC and health officials answered questions from the media regarding the possible cases. 

Here's a breakdown of the conversation: 

Q: How often was each person vaping? 

A: Right now states are leading their own specific epidemiological investigations and we’re providing assistance as needed. We’re currently assisting right now at the state’s request. CDC is working on a system to collect, aggregate, and analyze data at the national level to better characterize this illness. Right now we refer you to specific states for details on their own specific investigations

Q: How many people were vaping ingredients of THC vs. nicotine. Are officials looking into the vape juice? 

A: The FDA is working with states to gather data and analyze information at this moment. Labs are trying to identify compounds present in the products. 

Q: Why is there a sudden upsurge in cases?

A: We do know e-cigs contain potentially harmful ingredients, it’s possible the cases were occurring before the investigation was initiated. We haven’t identified a special source connected with the illnesses. 

Q: Is it possible this was happening along but we’re just now hearing about it?

A: It’s possible but we’re continuing to investigate. 

Q: Can you say anything more on concerns of THC vaping as well nicotine? Did people in Illinois do more of one versus the other?

A: It’s important to know we’re in the early stages trying to piece together the facts. Many cases have involved compounds like THC. Information about where the products were used is very important to see if there are any patterns. 

Q: Are any of these illnesses connected to a possible "Black Market?"

A: Regarding the Illinois investigation, THC oils were used in some cases. We're trying to find out where THC oils were purchased. 

Q: We're seeing a lot of cases very quickly, will the patients survive?

A: In Illinois, some patients have recovered. Some need medical care and attention still. 

Q: Are you testing for pesticides residues in the THC vaping fluids? What vaping devices were used?

A: We're working to determine if products were being used as intended. We will get back to you about if labs are testing for pesticide residues. 

A full transcript of Friday's phone call can be read here.

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