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Illinois officials claim possible first death from vaping-related illness; investigation ongoing


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An Illinois resident who had recently vaped and was hospitalized with severe respiratory illness has died, the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement Friday.

As of Thursday, the CDC had not reported any deaths from vaping-related illnesses, making the Illinois case a possible first in the nation.

“This is the first death of an individual in Illinois who has been hospitalized for severe respiratory illness with reported vaping-e-cigarette use,” said Melaney Arnold, the department’s health information officer.

Illinois health officials did not say whether an autopsy was completed to determine the cause and manner of the person’s death. It is unclear if the individual had any pre-existing conditions.

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In order to protect the identity of the affected individual, additional information is not being provided at this time, Arnold said. The investigation is ongoing and more information will be shared as it is available.

The number of cases reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health of people who have used e-cigarettes or vaped and have been hospitalized with respiratory symptoms has doubled in the past week, the state department said.

“The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “We requested a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help us investigate these cases and they arrived in Illinois on Tuesday.”

A total of 22 people in Illinois, ranging in age from 17-38 years, have experienced respiratory illness after using e-cigarettes or vaping, the department said. The department is working with local health departments to investigate another 12 individuals.

“Affected individuals have experienced respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Some also experienced vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms worsened over a period of days or weeks before admission to the hospital,” the statement said.

Vaping-related illnesses on the rise

Concerns about vaping-related illnesses have spiked in recent months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that 153 possible cases of severe lung illness linked to vaping were reported across 16 states in just the past two months. Many cases involved the use of products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in cannabis.

The Illinois statement did not say whether the man had been vaping THC.

Other cases were reported in: California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Similar cases have also been reported in three additional states – Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee, according to NBC News. Wisconsin has seen at least 15 cases, including vaping-related lung illnesses among older people.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike told CNN earlier this month that a number of vaping-related lung illnesses occurred among people with “no known lung problems or previously diagnosed pulmonary issues.”

Dr. Melodi Pirzada, chief of pediatric pulmonology at NYU Winthrop Hospital, told USA TODAY that it is possible a patient with no previous health conditions could die from a vaping-related illness. “Yes, you can die from vaping. I had a patient who almost died,” Pirzada said Friday.

Just last month, Pirzada was able to save an 18-year-old man who was put in a medically induced coma after vaping cannabis oil.

Similarly, Texas teen Tryston Zohfeld narrowly escaped death this month when his lungs inflamed and became blocked. Much like the case at NYU, doctors initially thought Zohfeld had pneumonia until a friend revealed that Zohfeld had a vaping habit, according to WFAA-TV.

Dr. Karen Schultz, a specialist in pediatrics and pulmonology in Fort Worth, told WFAA-TV she believes vaping caused Zohfeld’s lungs to fail. Zohfeld was released from the hospital after 18 days.

In Salt Lake City, Intermountain Healthcare Pulmonologist Dr. Dixie Harris has been involved with four cases of vaping-related illnesses. Two of her patients almost died.

“From the cases that I’ve been involved with here at our facility, we’ve had at least two on ventilators. And at that point, there’s always a good chance of passing away,” Harris said.

Harris and her team have been working on a definition to describe these illnesses. “They come into the hospital. They have chest x-rays that look like pneumonia, but they don’t have an infection. And they’re vaping—with nicotine, marijuana or both. That’s how we’re defining our cases,” Harris said.

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The Food and Drug Administration has joined the CDC investigation and is providing technical and laboratory assistance to help identify any products or substances used.

“We continue to call on the CDC and FDA to not only promptly investigate these incidents, but also act to ensure that adult smokers know that nicotine vaping products remain a far safer alternative to smoking,” said American Vaping Association President Gregory Conley.

Vaping-related illnesses aren’t the only dangers e-cigarettes pose. At least two Americans have died after their e-cigarettes exploded. In 2019, a 24-year-old Texas man died after an exploding e-cigarette cut an artery in his neck and triggered a stroke. In 2018, a 38-year-old Florida man died after his e-cigarette exploded and burned 80% of his body.

This story will be updated as more information develops.

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