Amid a major outbreak of severe lung illness linked to vaping, health officials announced Friday that five people across the country have died from the mysterious disease, including one in Los Angeles County.
In recent weeks, federal health officials have been investigating a collection of severe symptoms, including chest pain, shortness of breath and vomiting, associated with e-cigarettes. They say they are unsure of the exact cause of the problems, but urge people to stop vaping until they figure out why some are coming down with breathing illnesses.
As of Friday, there were 450 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease across 33 states, said officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the first cases were reported in April, there have been five deaths, one in Oregon, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota as well as the case in L.A. County, officials said.
The person who died in L.A. County was more than 55 years old and had other chronic health conditions, according to local officials. A total of 12 people in the county have been hospitalized for e-cigarette-related injuries, one-third of whom were older adults and almost all of whom had vaped using THC, officials said.
“Today we’re issuing a warning to all residents about the use of these devices as potentially harmful to proper lung function,” L.A. county public health director Barbara Ferrer said at a news conference on Friday. “Stop vaping now.”
Nationwide, patients diagnosed with the mysterious illness reported e-cigarette use prior to becoming sick, said Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, who is overseeing the CDC’s response to the outbreak. Most had vaped with THC, some with a mixture of THC and nicotine and a smaller number with only nicotine, she said.
So far, no specific devices or chemicals have been linked to the outbreak, she said.
“While the investigation is ongoing, CDC has advised that individuals consider not using e-cigarettes — because as of now, this is the primary means of preventing this severe lung disease,” she said.
Though vaping isn’t new, it has become more popular in recent years. Officials say it is possible that the uptick in e-cigarette usage and related illnesses may have allowed officials to spot the outbreak this year. Illnesses in previous years may have been missed or misdiagnosed because of their small numbers, they said.
L.A. County public health officer Dr. Muntu Davis compared the revelations about e-cigarettes to the slow discovery of the danger of cigarettes several decades ago.
“We question whether we’re on that same path in terms of vaping,"he said.
Last week, a Los Angeles teenager began an online anti-vaping campaign from her hospital bed, where she says she landed because of vaping. Her lungs failed due to using e-cigarettes and she had to be put on a ventilator, she said.
“Vaping is advertised as ‘a healthier alternative to smoking’ which is false. whether it’s nicotine or weed vaping can be fatal,” she wrote on Instagram.
Across California, there have been 57 cases of acute lung disease among people with a recent history of vaping since late June, according to state health officials.
Ferrer said Friday that there are studies that show that 10% of high school students vape regularly.
“That’s thousands and thousands of young people that are vaping, so for me, that’s an emergent issue,” she said.