The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a rising number of cases of mysterious pneumonias linked to vaping on Friday. Now, the agency reports 450 people from 33 states and one U.S. jurisdiction have been affected.
Three deaths have been confirmed, authorities said, and another is being investigated.
The New England Journal of Medicine and CDC’s online journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report coordinated the release of case reports and case findings from Illinois and Wisconsin, Utah, North Carolina and California. While the descriptions of the cases were remarkably similar, it is not currently clear why young vapers — the majority of cases are young men — are developing severe pneumonias.
Many of the people who developed the respiratory illness — which in some cases requires days of mechanical ventilation — admitted to vaping tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis. Others said they vaped THC and nicotine while some said they only used nicotine products with their e-cigarettes.
Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s center for tobacco products, said FDA labs have been testing samples of vaping products collected by state health departments in their investigations of cases.
The FDA currently has 120 samples it is testing, looking for pesticides, toxins, poisons, cutting agents and additives as well as other chemicals, Zeller said. But so far there is no evident answer.
“The samples we’re evaluating show a mix of results and no one substance or compound, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples tested, Zeller said.
The illness has been described as a lipoid pneumonia, with lipids — fats — in the lungs. But Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, CDC’s incident manager for the outbreak, warned that it’s too soon to know if the lipids are a reliable clue.
She also noted that it is currently unclear whether these illnesses represent something new, or a health risk that has been newly recognized.
Reports of similar pneumonias among e-cigarette users have not come from other countries at this point. A CDC spokeswoman said that the agency has reached out to partner organizations, including the Public Health Agency of Canada, to ask if they are seeing similar cases. “At this time we’re not aware of any cases outside of the United States. However we are sharing information with international partners in the event that cases have gone unrecognized,” she said.
While investigations are underway, both the CDC and the FDA urged people to stop vaping. People who intend to continue to vape should buy their products from reliable stores, they said, and refrain from mixing products.