Health officials in two states say that many patients sickened by vaping-associated lung illness vaped THC and used pre-packaged, pre-filled cartridges — often acquired from informal sources like friends or dealers.
The new report, published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from interviews with 86 confirmed and probable patients with the illness in Illinois and Wisconsin, the states which first reported the cases. The report underscores the difficulty in parsing the exact products that might be involved in the illnesses. Interviewees reported using 234 different products across 87 different brands.
“The outbreak is occurring in the context of a dynamic marketplace,” Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, told reporters Friday.
Health officials said 66% of patients reported using Dank Vape cartridges, which a CDC report called “the most prominent in a class of largely counterfeit brands.” But they cautioned that they still have not been able to nail down a culprit or culprits behind the illnesses.
“We can unfortunately not identify one product, brand, source, or device that is common across all patients,” said Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist at the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The findings come as concern grows about the spate of mysterious illnesses linked to vaping. There have been 805 confirmed and probable cases of lung injury linked with e-cigarette use across 46 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to federal data released Thursday. Twelve deaths have been linked to the illnesses.
The report also appeared to confirm an issue that doctors and health officials have raised throughout the investigation: Patients are reluctant to disclose THC use. In Wisconsin, eight patients initially said they didn’t use THC products in interviews, but were later found to have used the drug through second interviews, review of medical charts, or interviews with friends who were also being treated as patients.
The findings come with caveats. The interviews only include 86 of the 127 confirmed and probable patients in the two states as of Sept. 20. And it’s not clear whether the findings from Illinois and Wisconsin patients mirror the characteristics of cases in other states.
While the investigation continues, health officials are urging the public to refrain from using e-cigarettes, particularly for the purpose of vaping THC.
In another report released Friday, the CDC said 77% of patients nationwide reported using THC or both THC and nicotine. The agency also said that 69% of cases were in men and 62% were in people between ages 18 and 34.