After weeks of growing confusion and mounting concern, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have officially announced they're investigating a mysterious lung disease that’s hit almost 100 people this summer. There’s currently no clear idea of what’s behind the problem, however, there is one glaringly obvious link in a significant number of the cases: they're teenagers who use e-cigarettes or vapes.
“We’re all baffled,” Dr Melodi Pirzada, a pediatric lung specialist at NYU Winthrop Hospital who has treated two cases in New York, told the Associated Press (AP).
Between June 28 and August 15, 2019, the CDC documented at least 94 cases of a “severe lung illness” across 14 states. Of these cases, at least 30 occurred in Wisconsin.
People suffering from the elusive ailment experience a number of symptoms, including shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, chest pain, coughing, and weight loss. Dozens of people have fallen so sick they've required hospitalization and a small handful have even come close to dying, doctors told AP.
Perhaps most startling of all, it’s not yet understood how long these symptoms last or whether some of the patients will make a full recovery.
If you start to experience any chest pain or difficulty breathing after vaping, even weeks or months prior to these symptoms emerging, then it’s strongly recommended you seek immediate medical attention.
“We are deeply concerned by the severe cases of lung injury associated with vaping that we are currently seeing,” Dr Emily Chapman, chief medical officer at Children’s Minnesota, said in a statement.
“These cases are extremely complex to diagnose, as symptoms can mimic a common infection yet can lead to severe complications and extended hospitalization. Medical attention is essential.”
Authorities are looking to investigate the types of vaping products that may be associated with the disease and whether it might be linked to specific ingredients or contaminants. They will also specifically investigate whether the patients used vape liquids that included nicotine, THC, synthetic cannabinoids, or a combination of these drugs.
The CDC notes that there’s “no conclusive evidence” to suggest that an infectious disease is to blame for the current illness outbreak, however, it was found earlier this year that some e-cigarette liquids are contaminated with fungi and bacteria. Another study found that e-cigarette vapor can contain lead, arsenic, chromium, manganese, nickel, and a bunch of heavy metals that have been linked to a variety of severe health concerns.
The health effects of vaping, especially in the long term, are currently very hazy. However, a mounting body of scientific studies is starting to throw doubt on the idea that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to tobacco smoking. On the other hand, recent research has demonstrated that people attempting to quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes are about 95 percent more likely to report succeeding than those trying without. Whether this is a risk worth taking is yet to be definitively confirmed, however.