Science and Health

What We Know About The Vaping-Related Illnesses Plaguing The Nation

Exactly what's causing these illnesses is still largely a mystery.

What We Know About The Vaping-Related Illnesses Plaguing The Nation
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"The Centers for Disease Control is warning people to stop using e-cigarettes."

"The number of deaths linked to vaping rising today."

"Dozens of young people sick with potentially dangerous lung illnesses, health officials linking it to e-cigarettes and vaping."

"I would always argue how safe it was until it took effect on me."

An outbreak of serious lung disease linked to vaping or using e-cigarettes has been plaguing the nation. Dozens of cases of vaping-related illnesses have been reported across the U.S. in recent weeks, and at least six people have died so far.

The CDCFDA and other health officials have launched investigations into the growing epidemic. A high school in Alabama removed some of its bathroom stall doors to discourage students from vaping. Politicians and even the first lady are calling for measures to curb the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.

But exactly what's causing these vaping-related illnesses is still largely a mystery. Here's what public health experts have been able to figure out so far:

As of Sept. 6, the CDC had been notified of more than 450 possible cases of vaping-related lung illnesses. Most patients were otherwise healthy and in their late teens, twenties or thirties, though some older adults have fallen ill, too.

Reported symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss. Some patients said their symptoms came on suddenly, while others reported a more gradual onset.

Treating the illnesses has been tricky, since patients often don't know much about the substances they've inhaled or sometimes even refuse to share that information. Health officials are testing and analyzing dozens of vaping liquids, devices and cartridges for clues.

But the sudden rise and severity of these issues have led investigators to believe that contaminants could be the culprit, rather than vaping products that have been on the market for years.

The focus has narrowed to vaping liquids containing THC, the active chemical in cannabis. Many patients have admitted to using those products. 

One of the leading theories is that they may have been contaminated with Vitamin E acetate. According to the FDA, most of the samples investigators tested that had THC in them also contained significant amounts of Vitamin E acetate. We don't know much about the health effects of inhaling that compound.

But other experts say this epidemic may have been around for a while and is just now getting widespread attention. That said, most public health officials agree that consumers should not buy vaping products off the street, and that modifying store-bought products with other substances is not a great idea.