Vaping illnesses in US still rising, though at slower pace

In this Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 photo, a man using an electronic cigarette exhales in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. On Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 2,172 confirmed and probable vaping-related illnesses have been reported. Cases have occurred in every state but Alaska. Forty-two people in 24 states have died.

Alaska has reported its first case of lung injury associated with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use.

The state Department of Health and Social Services announced Tuesday that a teenager from Southeast Alaska is the first case to meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition for the injury, which is referred to as EVALI — an acronym for e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury.

The state has investigated nine suspected cases of EVALI, according to a health department news release. This case is the only one to be confirmed.

“It was determined that none of those eight prior suspect cases met CDC’s EVALI case definition,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist.

The teenager is hospitalized, but the news release from the health department notes he is improving. The teen reported regularly vaped nicotine and THC products.

“So the patient reported that the THC vaping product that was being used was not from Alaska’s market,” McLaughlin said. He added that the product was obtained from the Lower 48.

The patient reported having a cough that started early in November and then about two weeks later the patient developed more progressive symptoms, according to McLaughlin. Initially the person was thought to have influenza but tested negative. After developing shortness of breath and going back into treatment, the teenager was hospitalized out of the state.

“So the patient was clinically evaluated and was started on antibiotics because it was thought that the patient had some sort of respiratory infection, and based on the symptoms that the patient had, these symptoms are very similar to influenza," McLaughlin said.

The teen was hospitalized on Thanksgiving and the case was reported to the Department of Health and Social Services on Friday, at which point the department notified CDC, according to McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said the department was able to consult Monday with CDC medical experts who are overseeing the clinical side of the outbreak nationally. CDC experts and the state determined the patient met the criteria for the CDC case definition for EVALI.

As of Nov. 20, there have been 2,290 cases of the illness from 49 states, Washington, D.C., the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Thus far there have been 47 confirmed deaths in 25 states and Washington, D.C.

To find out more, visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html. The latest outbreak information is set to be reported Dec. 5 and updates periodically.

McLaughlin noted that CDC has identified vitamin E acetate as a “chemical of concern” in the outbreak and that it is being further investigated.

“However, we don’t have enough information yet to say that vitamin E acetate is causing EVALI,” he said.

McLaughlin also noted the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office has reviewed all vaping products approved by the Marijuana Control Board and found that no vaping products in Alaska’s regulated THC marketplace have been approved to contain vitamin E acetate.

The department is asking that people avoid e-cigarettes and vaping products until it understands more about the outbreak, specifically those than contain THC and those from informal sources such as family members, friends and the black market.

McLaughlin highly recommends those who choose to continue to vape or use e-cigarettes monitor themselves for symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fever and gastrointestinal distress, and seek medical treatment if those symptoms arrive.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.