Vaping-related illnesses in the U.S. are still rising, though at a slightly slower pace. Health officials on Thursday said there have been 1,479 cases and at least 33 deaths since the mysterious outbreak began in March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been releasing new case counts each week. The latest jump — 180 cases, including seven more deaths — was the lowest increase since mid-September. By comparison, the prior two weeks saw increases of 275 cases. But CDC officials say there's no indication that the outbreak is waning.
"This complex investigation spans almost all states, involves over a thousand patients, and involves a wide variety of brands and substances and e-cigarette, or vaping, products," The CDC said in its update. "Case counts continue to increase and new cases are being reported, which makes it more difficult to determine the cause or causes of this outbreak."
Symptoms of the illness include severe shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain. No single ingredient, electronic cigarette or vaping device has been linked to all the illnesses.
However, national and state data reviewed by the CDC suggests that products containing THC, the chemical in marijuana responsible for causing "highs" have been linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak. Specifically, vaping cartridges obtained off the street or from other informal sources, such as friends, family members or illicit dealers have been linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.
Of the 849 patients that have given the CDC information on the substances that were used in vaping products in the three months prior to symptom onset, about 78 percent reported using THC-containing products, 31 percent of whom reported exclusively using THC-containing products.
About 58 percent reported using nicotine-containing products, with ten percent saying they exclusively used nicotine-containing products.
There has been an increased focus on youths using vaping products, with Montana reporting, on Wednesday, that a teenager was the state’s first vaping-related death.
The CDC cautions against teens’ usage of these products because most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which, as the agency terms it, “is the addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products.”
A recent CDC study found that 99% of the e-cigarettes sold in “assessed venues” in the United States contained nicotine. Some e-cigarette labels do not disclose that they contain nicotine, and some e-cigarettes marketed as containing 0% nicotine have been found to contain nicotine.
The agency cautions that using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control, and that using nicotine in their teens may also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs.
Until a cause is pinpointed, the CDC is advising Americans to refrain from vaping. Forty-nine states and one U.S. territory have reported illnesses. Only Alaska has not seen a case. The vast majority of cases are people in their teens, 20s or early 30s, according to the CDC.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.