Four people have died in Illinois since March after experiencing serious vaping-related illnesses. The state is now among those with the most fatalities linked to the outbreak, according to health officials. Four deaths have also been reported in Indiana and California.
New figures released Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the total number of similar fatalities in the U.S. since March at 42, with 2,172 confirmed and probable lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarettes. In Illinois, 179 cases have been reported in 32 counties, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, which says those affected range in age from 13 to 75 years old, with a median age of 22. An additional 41 cases are under investigation in Illinois.
“The growing number of fatalities underscores the severity of these illnesses,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike in a statement. “We continue to work with local and federal partners to investigate the cause of this outbreak.”
Last week, the CDC reported discovering a “very strong culprit” in the cause of the illnesses after finding the same chemical compound – vitamin E acetate – in fluid taken from the lungs of nearly 30 patients nationwide. Despite this “breakthrough,” Ezike and other health officials say there still could be other causes.
“We strongly urge people not to use e-cigarette or vaping products that contain THC, especially those obtained through informal sources like off the street or online dealers,” Ezike said.
More than 80% of patients who got sick in Illinois reported using products containing tetrahydrocannabinol – THC, the chemical that gives marijuana its high – primarily obtaining them from friends or on the street, according to IDPH.
All of those affected reported using e-cigarettes or vaping devices within 90 days of getting sick, and officials have not been able to attribute their symptoms to another cause. Reported symptoms have included coughing, shortness of breath, diarrhea, fatigue and vomiting, which worsen over a period of days or weeks before hospital admission.
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 looking after patients with unexpected serious respiratory illness should ask about a person’s history of vaping.
The Associated Press contributed.