Jayne O’Donnell and Ken Alltucker USA TODAY
Published 6:30 PM EST Dec 20, 2019
Vaping-related lung injuries peaked in September and are on the decline, federal officials said Friday, and the link to the additive vitamin E acetate in marijuana-based THC is growing stronger.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,506 people have been hospitalized in 50 states and 54 died as of Tuesday. The CDC found an alarming new trend among lung injury patients after leaving hospitals – 31 returned to the hospital and seven died.
Although there has been a drop in emergency room visits for vaping-related lung injuries, government officials emphasized new cases continue. A report in The New England Journal of Medicine found hospital visits for vaping lung injuries rose sharply in June, peaked in September, then declined. ER visits for the lung injuries still remain higher than when the outbreak began in June, the CDC said.
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“Though we continue to receive reports of newly diagnosed patients, the level of new cases is greatly reduced and has been declining since a peak in September,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director.
The CDC expanded research into the cause of the lung illnesses and analyzed the lung fluid known as bronchoalveolar lavage from a larger number patients from 16 states and compared them with the same fluid in healthy people. A report in NEJM showed vitamin E acetate, also found in product samples tested by the FDA and state laboratories, was found in the fluid of 48 of 51 lung injury patients and not in the fluid of healthy people.
“We can conclude that what I can call the explosive outbreak of cases of (lung injuries) can be attributed to exposure to THC-containing vaping products that also contain vitamin E acetate,” Schuchat said.
The CDC has not ruled out other harmful substances and found a “persistent small proportion” of lung injury patients report using non-THC vaping products, Schuchat said.
The deaths and readmitted patients prompted the CDC to recommend doctors and hospitals follow up with lung injury patients within two days after they are discharged. The median time from discharge to returning to the hospital was four days, and the seven deaths occurred within a median of three days.
Patients who returned to the hospital were more likely than other lung injury patients to have a history of chronic conditions such as heart disease, respiratory conditions, sleep apnea and diabetes. The lung injury patients who died after hospital discharge were more likely to be 50 or older, the CDC said.
Also on Friday, the FDA and Drug Enforcement Administration seized 44 websites marketing vaping cartridges containing THC as part of a federal-state effort to track supplies of illicit products. Most lung-injury patients reported obtaining THC cartridges from informal sources such as friends, family, street dealers or online marketers.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn warned his agency is committed to “further appropriate actions” with federal, state and local agencies as it probes the vaping-related illnesses.
“It is a federal crime to advertise the sale of illicit THC vaping cartridges online, and by seizing these websites today, we are able to focus on other online and in-person sources of illegal and potentially dangerous vaping products,” Hahn said.
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