The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s criminal investigations unit is looking into the rise of vaping-related lung illnesses amid a nationwide outbreak that’s linked to 530 illnesses and seven deaths, health officials said Thursday.
The announcement follows an increase in the number of confirmed and probable cases of illnesses related to vaping reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of cases has increased by 150 since last week. The death toll is also expected to rise, health officials said.
The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, which began probing the illnesses “shortly after” people started falling ill, will focus on identifying what is making people sick as well as focus on the supply chain, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, told reporters in a call.
“We are in desperate need of facts,” he said. “Let me be clear, OCI is not pursuing any prosecutions associated with personal use of any controlled substances in these cases.”
The CDC urged the public to refrain from using the products until more information is known.
“Although the investigation continues, no consistent e-cigarette pen or vaping product, substance, additive, or brand has been identified in all cases,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, told reporters. “Nor has any one product or substance been conclusively linked to lung injury in patients.”
The majority of those sickened are male and between the ages of 18 and 34. Roughly 16% are younger than 18, Schuchat said.
Common symptoms include breathing issues, dry cough or chest pain, and in some cases, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Anyone who is using an e-cigarette product and experiences such symptoms should contact their doctor, Schuchat said.
“The e-cigarette and vaping-related lung injuries are serious. People are dying. We ask you to take these recommendations seriously,” she said.