Health officials are warning about the dangers of vaping after six people in Illinois reported severe breathing problems after using electronic cigarettes.
Reported symptoms have included cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting, which worsened over a period of days or weeks before hospital admission, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Reported illnesses began in May and five additional reports are under investigation, according to the agency.
“IDPH is working with local health departments and hospitals to investigate reported cases of hospitalized individuals with unexplained respiratory illness and a history of vaping,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike in a statement. “The short- and long-term effects of vaping are still being researched, but these recent hospitalizations have shown that there is the potential for immediate health consequences.”
Dr. Steven Aks, an emergency medicine physician and chief of toxicology at Cook County Health, agrees.
“This outbreak is a reason to pause and think about if you really need to be vaping in general,” said Aks. “We don’t know what additive within the vaping liquid is causing (the symptoms) that seems to be happening in young and otherwise healthy folks. ... An infectious agent could also have caused pulmonary effects like that as well.”
Five cases have been confirmed in the northeastern part of the state and one in the St. Louis metro east area among individuals in their teens and 20s, according to IDPH. Wisconsin health officials are reporting 12 confirmed cases of “severe lung disease” related to vaping.
The Illinois Poison Center has not received any calls related to the outbreak, but the American Association of Poison Control Centers says that almost 2,500 e-cigarette and liquid nicotine exposure cases have been reported since the end of July.
“This is really not a safe alternative to smoking,” said Dr. Jenny Lu, emergency room doctor and toxicologist at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital. “And I would say parents (should) educate their kids. And we don’t know what this is doing to the brains of adolescents who are still developing.”
IDPH is also working with health departments in other states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the names and types of vaping products linked to the hospitalizations, as well as where they were obtained. Health officials say this information is necessary to determine which chemicals individuals may have been exposed to.
Officials advise anyone who is experiencing any type of chest pain or difficulty breathing after vaping to seek immediate medical attention even if symptoms arise weeks later. Health care providers caring for patients with unexpected serious respiratory illness should ask about a history of vaping.
Note: This story was originally published Aug. 12, 2019. It has been updated to include comments from Dr. Jenny Lu.