Nearly 22 people, many of whom are young adults, have been hospitalized as of Tuesday with “severe breathing difficulties linked to vaping,” according to NBC News.
Doctors are still unsure of what exactly is causing these issues. Though patients said they had used e-cigarette devices to inhale both nicotine and THC, NBC reported.
“We know there are certain characteristics in common with these cases, but we have not been able to get to the bottom of exactly what aspect of the vaping habit or product or solvent or oil is causing the injury,” Dr. Emily Chapman, chief medical officer for Children’s Minnesota, a pediatric health system headquartered in Minneapolis, told the outlet.
Four of the cases were reported in Minnesota, and another 12 in Wisconsin and six in Illinois, NBC reported.
This represents an increase from early August, when health officials announced that fourteen teenagers had been hospitalized: eleven teens and young adults in Wisconsin, and three young people in Illinois.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed on August 2 that the teens and young adults had been “hospitalized with severe lung disease that has been linked to recent vaping.”
Doctors originally thought that the teens admitted to Children’s Minnesota were suffering from a bad respiratory infection, such as pneumonia, NBC said.
“They have progressed to have significant difficulty with their breathing and increasing lung distress,” Chapman said. “They’ve ended up needing our intensive care unit and in some cases assistance with their breathing.”
For one patient, Dylan Nelson, 26, of Burlington, Wisconsin, he went to the hospital one day after taking a few hits few a new vape cartridge he bought off the street.
“You don’t know if you’re buying something from a middle man that picked it up from a dispensary or if you’re buying it from somebody who has tampered with it and made their own mixture,” Dylan’s brother, Patrick DeGrave, said.
“You literally don’t know what you’re inhaling into your body,” he added.
According to NBC, it is still unclear if there was some type of contamination of the e-liquids or devices that has been causing these cases.
“Could it be that these particular patients were smoking something in common? Definitely possible. It’s also possible that as clusters become evident to physicians, we start to look out for things more,” said Dr. Christy Sadreameli, a pediatric pulmonologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association.
According to health officials, the majority of cases in Wisconsin were in the southeastern part of the state, while in Illinois, all three of the hospitalized teens lived in the northeastern part of the state.
“Vaping among teens has increased dramatically over the last several years,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike in a news release. “While the short- and long-term effects of vaping are still being researched, these recent hospitalizations heighten the need for parents talk with their teens about vaping and for both to understand the consequences and potential dangers of vaping.”
“We strongly urge people to avoid vaping products and e-cigarettes. Anyone — especially young people who have recently vaped — experiencing unexplained breathing problems should see a doctor,” added Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm in a separate release.
In a statement obtained by Fox6 News, Megan Cordova, executive director of the American Lung Association Wisconsin issued the following on the matter:
“The American Lung Association has always held the position that e-cigarette use is NOT safe, especially by youth whose lungs are still developing. E-cigarettes contain chemicals, heavy metals and fine particulates. The candy and fruit-flavorings that so many youth find appealing also contain chemicals known to cause irreparable lung damage. These flavorings are designed to tempt kids and give the false impression that e-cigarettes are safe. Contrary to what the industry would have them believe, e-cigarettes are NOT SIMPLY HARMLESS WATER VAPOR.”
“Wisconsin had made enormous strides in reducing smoking rates but now faces a new generation of nicotine addiction among our youth. We call on lawmakers to act swiftly to enact laws to turn the tide on this growing epidemic – raising the legal purchase of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes to 21, adding e-cigarettes to the states smoke free air law and taxing e-cigarettes the same as regular combustible cigarettes.”
Health officials claim prolonged use of vaping chemicals can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is a permanent condition that lessens lung effectiveness in transporting oxygen.