There Are Now Nearly 200 Cases of Severe Lung Illnesses Tied to Vaping

A person holding a vaping device.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The number of potential cases of severe lung illnesses linked to vaping has increased to 193,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today (Aug. 23). One adult patient in Illinois has died. 

The CDC is investigating the string of vaping-related illnesses, now reported in 22 states. The investigation is ongoing, and it's still unclear if the cases were linked or what kinds of products the patients had used, according to the CDC.

"Even though cases appear similar, it isn't clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different cases with similar presentations," Ileana Arias, the acting deputy director for noninfectious diseases at the CDC, said at the news briefing.

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However, all of the patients reported having used electronic cigarettes or vaping products in the past couple of months, she said. In many cases, the patients also reported having used products containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Several states are conducting their own investigations into the string of illnesses and reporting back to the CDC, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is helping to test and identify products and devices that the patients may have used. The FDA has received product samples from a number of states and is starting to analyze them for specific constituents. 

"We don't have any specific information to share at this time," said Mitch Zeller, the director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA.

"It's possible that the reported cases could have been occurring before this investigation was even initiated," said Brian King, the deputy director for research translation in the Office on Smoking and Health at the CDC. It could just be that "we weren't necessarily capturing them."

"We do know that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless," he said. These products contain many chemicals, both listed and unlisted, that can be problematic for the lungs, such as ultrafine particulates, heavy metals like lead, volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing chemicals, King said. Even e-cigarette flavorings, such as those that make it taste "buttery," have compounds previously linked to severe respiratory illness, he said.

That being said, the CDC has not identified specific products or ingredients linked to any of these cases. 

In Illinois, 22 patients, between the ages of 17 and 38, were hospitalized from severe lung illness associated with vaping. The Illinois patient who died was an adult, said Dr. Jennifer Layden, the chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Again, it's not clear what products these patients used. The only "consistent information is that all patients have vaped in recent months," she said.

The FDA encourages the public to submit detailed reports of any unexpected tobacco- or e-cigarette-related health or product issues.

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.