CDC, FDA Investigating Severe Illnesses Linked to Vaping

Vaping devices. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are launching an investigation into the causes of the more than 200 cases of severe respiratory infections associated with e-cigarette vaping reported in August from 25 states.

Many patients are presenting similar symptoms prior to hospitalization, including difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain. More severe symptoms related to these respiratory illnesses include vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue.

In a statement Friday, acting FDA commissioner Norman Sharpless said the agency would be working closely with local and state health officials to investigate the potential causes of the infections. He said the organization was committed to “taking appropriate actions as a clearer picture of the facts emerge.”

“Current assistance to states includes deploying CDC staff to Illinois and Wisconsin to assist their state health departments with the respective state investigations; releasing a Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) Clinical Action Alert describing this investigation and asking providers to report possible cases to their state health departments,” Sharpless said.

States will be conducting their own investigations on these cases, Sharpless added, based on a recently released standardized case definition. Although the instances and infections appear to be linked, an investigation is required to determine if they are the same, or only presenting similar symptoms.

“CDC and the FDA are providing consultation to state health departments and working closely with them to gather information on any products or substances used,” Sharpless said. “For example, our agencies are working to standardize information collection at the state level to help build a more comprehensive picture of these incidents.”

The FDA has received 80 samples of e-cigarette liquid as well as liquid containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – the active component in marijuana – for analysis. The agency determine whether these e-cigarette liquids contain chemicals not listed on their product disclaimers and investigate their relationship to the illnesses.

“At this time, there does not appear to be one product involved in all of the cases, although THC and cannabinoids use has been reported in many cases,” Sharpless said. “At this time, the specific substances within the e-cigarette products that cause illness are not known and could involve a variety of substances.”

Jeanette Dexter, a registered respiratory therapist with Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, said while she has not seen respiratory cases related to vaping in that state, the cases reported to the CDC seem more aggressive than other smoking-related illnesses

“Because from what I’m hearing there’s a lot more chemicals,” Dexter said. “They’re just not exactly sure about all the chemicals that are being inhaled. I think it’s one of those chemicals that is causing people to come to the hospital.”

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