Vaping Could Lead To Severe Respiratory Illness, Health Officials Say

Aug 21, 2019
Originally published on August 30, 2019 8:50 am

Updated 4:01 p.m., Aug. 23, 2019

Ohio Department of Health (ODH) officials are now asking doctors and hospitals to report any cases of patients with serious respiratory problems that could be connected to vaping to their local health department.  

Ohio is currently investigating reports of six people who experienced severe pulmonary illness following use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, according to a press release from ODH.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating 193 possible cases across 22 states in which primarily teens and young adults have developed lung problems. One person has died, according to the CDC. The cases are suspected to be caused by vaping — either nicotine, TCH or both — but more proof is needed, CDC officials said Friday.

Several other states have alread been tracking the trend and reporting data to the CDC. ODH sent a letter to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health Aug 23, indicating Ohio is going to begin looking more closely at the issue and collect data to track the problem.

Dr. Humberto Choi, pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, said e-cigarette devices are growing in popularity and so are the possible physical issues they can cause. Over the past few weeks, he has treated three young adults with respiratory problems and no cause other than exposure to vaping.

Vaping can cause mild problems, such as a cough and shortness of breath, but some young people are developing serious respiratory illnesses, Dr. Choi said.

“Some of them even had a fever,” he said. “And some of them even had to be hospitalized and even required life support from a mechanical ventilator.”

All of the patients were vaping nicotine but some were also using marijuana at the same time, Dr. Choi said. The patients had been vaping for weeks or months, on a daily basis, he said.

There have been no reported deaths, but since these issues are so new, doctors do not yet have a treatment protocol, he said

“Some of the cases we have treated by recommending not to vape anymore, but for severe cases steroids could be used to fight the [lung] inflammation,” he said.

University Hospitals doctors have also reported one illness from recent weeks involving a teenager, apparently related to vaping, officials said. 

The CDC earlier this month sent a letter to hospitals and doctors urging them to start tracking this troubling trend. Several states – including Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Indiana, and Minnesota – are working to identify these cases.

“We are seeing a tremendous increase in vaping among our youth, which is a public health crisis,” said ODH Director Amy Acton, MD, MPH. “There is a perception that vaping is safe, and these reports of serious pulmonary illness linked to e-cigarette or vaping product use show that this is simply not true.”

According to CDC, patient respiratory symptoms have included cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. In some cases, symptoms worsened over a period of days or weeks and required hospitalization. Other symptoms reported by some patients included fever, chest pain, weight loss, nausea, and diarrhea.

Information about vaping and risks associated with e-cigarette use is available on the ODH website at www.odh.ohio.gov and the CDC website at www.cdc.gov. Information about resources to help people quit smoking and vaping are available on the ODH website, including the Ohio Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW).

ideastream's Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.

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