Vaping-linked lung illnesses jump nationally; Georgia death reported

The CDC on Thursday announced a big jump in the number of confirmed and probable patient cases of lung injury associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping.


Those cases now total 805, up from 530 reported just last week.

The Atlanta-based health agency also said there have been 12 deaths in 10 states, including one reported in Georgia on Wednesday.

The CDC’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, told an Atlanta health care conference Thursday that vaping products — which mimic cigarettes but generate inhalable vapors instead of actual smoke — have “significant health consequences.’’ He said the public assumption that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes has helped drive the vaping trend.

“The challenge for us is to figure out what’s causing’’ the lung illnesses, Redfield told the Health Connect South conference at the Georgia Aquarium.

He pointed out that media articles connecting the lung diseases with vaping of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, did not account for the more than 15 percent of the cases involving products containing only nicotine, which he called “a toxic, poisonous substance.’’ Nicotine occurs in tobacco, and vaping products that contain the chemical have been marketed as alternatives to tobacco use.

“We’ve seen totally healthy teenagers end up in intensive care units,” Redfield said.

The person who died in Georgia had a history of “heavy nicotine vaping,” but did not report a history of vaping other substances, such as THC, the Georgia Department of Public Health announced on Wednesday.

So far the state has identified nine cases of vaping-related illness, including this death, and other possible cases are being reviewed.

The nine people were hospitalized and developed pneumonia with “no known infectious cause,” according to the agency.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state’s Department of Public Health, urged individuals to follow the CDC recommendation that individuals not use e-cigarettes or other vaping devices while this investigation is ongoing.

Without knowing the specific cause of the vaping-associated illness, discontinuing the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices is the best safeguard against becoming ill, Public Health said.

The CDC has activated emergency operations to expand its probe of the outbreak of lung illnesses connected with e-cigarettes. Redfield said the number of young Americans using vaping products has increased to 6 million.

Patients with vaping-related problems usually have experienced coughing, chest pain or shortness of breath before their health deteriorated to the point that they needed to be hospitalized.

Their various diagnoses have included lipoid pneumonia (which can occur when oil enters the lungs), and acute eosinophilic pneumonia (caused by the buildup of a type of white blood cell in the lungs) and acute respiratory distress syndrome, NPR reported. The latter is a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs and prevents the oxygen that people’s bodies need from circulating in the bloodstream.