The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the sudden emergence of severe lung disease linked to vaping in 14 states.
Ninety-four possible cases of severe lung illness associated with vaping were reported from the end of June to Aug. 15, the CDC reported on Saturday. Thirty of those cases were in Wisconsin alone. Other states that appear to be especially affected are Illinois, California, New York, Indiana and New Jersey.
A survey of state health departments by CNN found at least 120 possible cases, the network reported Monday.
The largest number of cases, in Wisconsin, was first seen in teens and young adults, but the illness has now also appeared in older adults, according to a CDC statement.
Patients experience shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, chest pain and weight loss. Symptoms worsen over time, and some patients need ventilators to breathe and intensive care. Some have been hospitalized for several weeks. The illness could be linked to permanent lung damage. All patients reported vaping in the weeks or months before hospitalization, said the CDC.
Investigators don’t yet know if only certain vaping brands are involved, or what specific ingredient had been consumed by those who were sickened. Products may include nicotine, THC, synthetic cannabinoids or some combination, the CDC reported.
There is so far “no conclusive evidence that an infectious disease is causing the illnesses,” according to the health agency.
“While some cases in each of the states are similar and appear to be linked to e-cigarette product use, more information is needed to determine what is causing the illnesses,” the CDC said in a brief statement.
“This is the headline we’ve been trying to prevent,” Joseph Allen, an environmental health scientist at Harvard University, told Popular Science. Allen is a co-author of a study published earlier this year that found fungi and bacteria in some popular brands of e-cigarette liquid. Allen also warned that flavors in vapes that may be safely ingested through the digestive tract aren’t tested for safety when aerosolized and inhaled.
“When you have millions of kids inhaling this cocktail of chemicals that were never tested for inhalation safety, this type of headline is predictable, and also avoidable,” Allen said.
The CDC has sent notices and emails to physicians, hospitals and clinics providing background about the cases, and requests that they determine what vaping devices and brands people are using, what is being consumed — and to obtain samples if possible. The agency also asked whether people are sharing devices and ingredients.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it had received more reports of e-cigarette users experiencing seizures and was investigating a possible link between vaping and neurological symptoms.