Indiana sees first death from vaping illness that may have sickened more than 450
By Shari Rudavsky,IndyStar on 9/9/2019
An Indiana resident has died from a mysterious respiratory illness linked to e-cigarette use, state health officials said Friday.
The individual, who was an adult, is the third person in the country known to have died from a severe respiratory disease that has potentially afflicted more than 450 people across the country.
"This is a tragedy for the family involved and a great concern for us," said Pamela Pontones, deputy state health commissioner. "This is a rapidly evolving situation. ... Nothing is known for certain about what is causing these injuries."
Health officials nationwide are scrambling to pinpoint the cause of the illness. Many of the patients, though not all, have reported vaping THC. Some have said they vaped both THC and nicotine, and some have reported using only nicotine.
For now the only common denominator among those who have fallen ill is a recent history of vaping. No infectious agent, such as a bacteria or virus, is thought to be behind the outbreak. Instead, federal health officials believe exposure to a chemical may be to blame, but they have not identified the rogue substance.
Illinois and Oregon each have had one death linked to the illness. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that they are investigating whether a fourth death is also due to this lung condition.
CDC officials are investigating a total of 450 potential cases, mostly involving healthy young people, who may have developed the disease, which does not yet have a name. Of these, there have been 215 confirmed cases in 33 states and one U.S. territory, federal health officials said.
Indiana has seen 30 of these cases, eight of which have been confirmed. Most of the cases have occurred in people ages of 16 to 29, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
Citing privacy laws, state health officials declined to give any additional information about the person who died.
Without a clear cause for the illness, government health officials are advising people not to vape. Anyone who develops symptoms should contact a health care provider.
Food and Drug Administration officials are examining more than 120 samples linked to the vaping illnesses. Those who vape and have concerns about the products they use can report them to the FDA's Safety Reporting Portal.
Patients with this illness develop shortness of breath, fevers and gastrointestinal distress, said Dr. Daniel Fox, a pulmonologist at WakeMed Health & Hospitals in North Carolina, who co-authored a paper in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report about the illness. He saw five patients with it, all of whom were diagnosed with a rare type of non-infectious pneumonia that develops when oils or substances containing lipids are introduced into the lungs.
About a third of patients require mechanical ventilation to help them breathe, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In New York State, officials have focused their investigation on a vitamin E oil that has been found in many of the cannabis products linked to the vaping illness.
State Health Commissioner Kris Box urged those who vape to use caution when doing so.
“The tragic loss of a Hoosier and rising number of vaping-related injuries are warnings that we cannot ignore,” she said. "While it is unclear what substances are causing injury, when you use these products with other chemicals, you may not know everything that you’re inhaling and the harm it can cause.”
Last week Box stood beside Gov. Eric Holcomb at Fishers High School and announced a $2 million public awareness initiative against vaping, including training and education and a social media campaign.
Other states have taken more drastic steps. Michigan, for instance, earlier this week banned flavored e-cigarettes, thought to be a lure for youth to pick up the vaping habit.
A recent Indiana study found that from 2012 to 2018, vaping soared by 387 percent among high school students. Nearly 35,000 more Indiana students used e-cigarettes in 2018 than just two years earlier.