Illinois officials reported on Friday that a patient with severe lung damage linked to vaping has died, the latest news in an outbreak likely affecting more than 190 people nationwide.
“The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,” said Ngozi Ezike of the Illinois Department of Public Health in a statement on the death.
CDC officials upped the number of possible cases in the outbreak to 193 patients on Friday, up from 153 reported earlier in the week. Illinois officials have not released the name, age, or gender of the person who died, saying only that the person is an adult.
“The cases are similar and appear related to e-cigarette use,” the CDC’s Ileana Arias said at a news briefing. She stressed the link to vaping was still a potential one in many cases, not confirmed.
Another CDC official, Brian King, deputy director of the Office on Smoking and Health, suggested that it is possible similar injuries have gone unreported in past years and the current glare of publicity is only now bringing attention to lung injuries related to vaping.
The outbreak of severe lung injuries linked to vaping started at the end of June and has spread to 22 states, largely among teens and young adults. The hospitalized patients reported difficulty breathing and chest pains, some requiring ventilators to breathe.
The cause of the outbreak is a mystery, but does not seem tied to an infectious disease. Many of the patients reported vaping oils containing THC, the marijuana ingredient that gets you high, just before the symptoms started. Investigators are looking at the vaping oils used by patients, as well as the types of devices they used, according to FDA official Mitch Zeller.
“We find ourselves at the early stage of the investigation just piecing together the facts,” said Zeller, asking for patience. “We are at times reliant on case reporting that is incomplete.”
For the last decade, public health officials have worried vaping nicotine would lead users to turn to cigarettes. A related debate has raged over the concentration of toxic chemicals in vaping fumes, ones created by the high temperature that e-cigarettes require to aerosolize oils.