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Vaping lung death toll hits 26 as CDC investigation continues

Vaping lung death toll hits 26 as CDC investigation continues


Nearly 1,300 lung injury cases reported

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Nearly 1,300 people have come down with a serious lung injury related to vaping, as government researchers continue to investigate the cause of the outbreak. That’s an increase of over 200 reported cases since last week.

“We are concerned — with hundreds of new cases reported each week — that we’re looking at a very concerning outbreak, very difficult to control,” Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a press call today. “The data that we’re getting does not suggest this has peaked. It doesn’t suggest this is declining.”

The age range among reported injury cases is highly varied, but points to a high number of younger victims. According to the CDC, 15 percent of patients are under 18 years old; 21 percent are 18 to 20 years old; 18 percent are 21 to 24 years old; 26 percent are 25 to 34 years old; and 20 percent are 35 years or older. That means that 80 percent of reported cases are for patients under the age of 35. Researchers also found that about 70 percent of individual injuries were to male patients.

The CDC also announced that there have now been 26 deaths in 21 states related to the outbreak. And while 80 percent of injuries were to patients under age 35, the deaths were a different story — people who died in the outbreak were older, ranging in age from 20s to 70s, with an average age of 49. According to the CDC, more deaths are under investigation.

“I wish we had more answers”

The vast majority — 76 percent — of the injury cases used products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while 58 percent reported also using nicotine-containing products, and 13 percent reported using only nicotine-containing products. But beyond that, answers as to what was causing the outbreak remained sparse.

“I wish we had more answers regarding the specific harmful products or components that are causing these illnesses,” Schuchat said.

The investigation into what is causing the injuries, which can leave lungs riddled with symptoms resembling chemical burns, is being led by the FDA.

“This is a complex investigation, unlike any we’ve seen,” said Judy McMeekin, the deputy associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at the FDA. She said that many of the samples that investigators have collected from patients haven’t had much liquid in them, limiting both the number and types of tests that are possible.

“The samples we are continuing to evaluate show a mix of results, and no one substance has been identified in all of the samples,” McMeekin said.

Because of the continued uncertainty into what is causing the disease, the CDC has strengthened its warnings for people who use e-cigarettes.

“With all the data that I’ve been seeing, I don’t know what is safe right now”

“Given the continued occurrence of life-threatening new cases, the CDC recommends that people refrain from using e-cigarette or vaping products, particularly those containing THC,” Schuchat said.

Investigators continue to especially warn against people buying products off the street or from friends. “It is pretty much impossible for you to know what is in the e-cigarette or the vaping product that you’re getting,” Schuchat said, “particularly THC-containing products bought off the street or bought from social sources.”

“With all the data that I’ve been seeing, I don’t know what is safe right now,” she continued.