Vaping

Some of the cannabis-containing vaping products contain high levels of vitamin E acetate. Vitamin E acetate is a key focus of the investigation of potential causes of vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses.

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials said Friday, Sept. 27, that their investigation into an outbreak of severe vaping-related illnesses is increasingly focused on products that contain the marijuana compound THC.

Most of the 800 people who got sick vaped THC, the ingredient in marijuana that causes a high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But officials said they didn’t know if the THC is the problem or some other substance added to the vaping liquid, such as thickeners.

“The outbreak currently is pointing to a greater concern around THC-containing products,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat.

So far, investigators have not identified a particular e-cigarette, vaping device, liquid or ingredient behind the outbreak. But officials say patients have mentioned the name Dank Vapes most frequently. Many of the people who got sick in Illinois and Wisconsin said they used prefilled THC cartridges sold in Dank Vapes packaging.

“It’s a generic product name that doesn’t really tie back to one store or one distributor,” said Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Folks are getting it from friends or folks on the street, with no understanding of where it came from prior to that.” she said.

Until a cause is pinned down, the CDC continues to advise Americans to consider avoiding all vaping products, though the agency on Friday added the phrase “particularly those containing THC.”

“We didn’t feel comfortable dropping the broader recommendation yet,” said Schuchat.

This week, the CDC reported 805 confirmed and probable cases of the lung illness. Thirteen people have died, including two in Oregon. Only the U.S. has reported such an outbreak, although Canadian officials this week confirmed that country’s first case.

On Friday, the agency provided more details in two reports:

— The first case in the U.S. began in late March. Cases ramped up in late June and rose dramatically in late July.

— Median age for the illnesses is 23. But the median age of those who died is much older — 50.

— Nationally, 9 in 10 cases required hospitalization. Many young and previously healthy adolescents and young adults needed machines to help them breathe.

— In Illinois and Wisconsin, patients mentioned 87 different product names and many vaped more than one.

Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, diarrhea and vomiting.

Officials continue to find a substantial number of U.S. patients — the new report says 16% — who said they vaped only nicotine, and not THC. But the report noted that in Wisconsin, five patients who initially denied using products with THC turned out to have used them.

The most illnesses have occurred in California, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown is advising Oregonians to stop vaping immediately after the state’s health authority announced a second vaping-related death Thursday.

Brown said she has sought advice from the Oregon Department of Justice on legal remedies, possibly including a temporary ban on all vaping products. Brown called the death a tragedy and “absolutely unacceptable.”

The governor has also asked the Oregon Health Authority to make recommendations on how “to protect Oregonians and public health.”

The health authority has, so far, identified five reports of severe lung injuries that it’s linked to a national outbreak of vaping-related illness. All five individuals had vaped or used e-cigarettes, and were hospitalized after experiencing respiratory issues, resulting in shortness of breath, coughing or chest pain.

Two of the cases resulted in a death, with the first fatality announced on Sept. 3. The other three individuals are “recovering,” according to state health officer Dean Sidelinger.

Sidelinger said the most recent death followed the same pattern as past cases: an adult, who experienced severe respiratory injuries after vaping cannabis products purchased from a licensed retailer. The individual was in the hospital for several weeks before succumbing to their injuries, according to Sidelinger. The authority is not releasing the person’s gender, age or location.

At a press conference Thursday announcing the latest death, health officials were adamant: No one in Oregon should still be vaping.

“No level of vaping is safe,” Sidelinger said. “With these acute respiratory injuries and deaths, we do urge all individuals to stop vaping, whether that’s nicotine-based products, cannabis products or other products.”

Rebecca Ellis of Oregon Public Broadcasting contributed to this report.

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