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Vaping warning issued after dozens fall ill, one death

The Oregon Health Authority and local public health departments are warning doctors and the public to be alert for signs of severe respiratory illness caused by vaping or e-cigarette use.

An Illinois patient who contracted a serious lung disease after vaping has died, the first death in the United States linked to the smoking alternative that has become popular with teens and young adults.

Anyone who has recently vaped and is experiencing difficulty breathing should seek medical attention immediately, OHA advised.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 193 people in 22 states have contracted severe respiratory illnesses after vaping. However, they said a clear-cut common cause of the illnesses hasn’t been identified.

Some patients have had breathing tubes inserted, and doctors fear potential long-lasting heart and lung damage in the worst cases, The Associated Press reported.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the states have not identified a cause, but the affected people all reported e-cigarette use or vaping.

Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the body apparently reacting to a caustic substance someone breathed in, according to the Associated Press.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said the adult patient who died was hospitalized after falling ill following vaping, though it didn’t give other information about the person, including the patient’s name, age, hometown or date of death.

The state received the report of the death Thursday, said Dr. Jennifer Layden, the Illinois agency’s chief medical officer.

No cases have been reported in Oregon, state officials said this week.

“These serious illnesses are another reason to encourage people to avoid vaping or to quit if they’re ready,” said Tom Jeanne, deputy health officer for OHA’s Public Health Division.

Before the recent reports of illness, OHA officials were already concerned about the health risks of vaping products.

A 2019 OHA report details risks, including nicotine addiction, increased heart rate, high blood pressure and exposure to toxic chemicals known to cause cancer.

Emissions can include formaldehyde and acetone — known carcinogens and irritants that can damage cells and tissues in the body, the report said.

Doctors said more research is needed on the health impacts of vaping and e-cigarettes, especially among teens.

In a 2018 case study published in the journal Pediatrics, an 18-year-old girl developed hypersensitivity pneumonitis after using e-cigarettes. She had to be hospitalized and have a breathing tube inserted.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a disease in which the lungs become inflamed due to an allergic reaction to inhaled chemicals, dust, fungus or mold, according to the American Lung Association.

Continued exposure to the substance that triggered the allergic reaction can lead to pulmonary fibrosis, in which the lungs become damaged and scarred, doctors said in the Pediatrics case study.

Thickened, stiff tissue from the irreversible scarring can make it harder for the lungs to work properly, causing shortness of breath and eventually necessitating a lung transplant for some patients, according to the Mayo Clinic.

For help to quit vaping or smoking, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or see www.quitnow.net/Oregon.

Information geared toward youths is at www.thisisquitting.com.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Health officials have issued a warning about electronic cigarettes and vaping after a spate of respiratory illnesses sent people to hospitals around the country. [AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File]