A vaping-related illness has claimed two more lives, bringing the total number of fatalities to 11.
More than 500 people are known to have fallen ill with a mysterious lung disease after smoking e-cigarettes in the US, but officials said hundreds of additional cases had been reported in the past week alone.
While most patients have reported a history of using products containing THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, the patient who died in Georgia on Wednesday reported only “heavy nicotine vaping”.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more than 100 officials investigating the cause of the mystery illness, and has warned citizens against smoking e-cigarette products until more is known, particularly if modified or bought “off the street”.
“Hundreds” of new cases have been reported to the CDC in the past week alone, the agency’s principal deputy director Dr Anne Schuchat told members of the US congress on the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday.
Dr Schuchat said officials were seeing “more and more cases” every day, and warned “identification of the cause or causes for the outbreak may take substantial time and continuing effort”.
Those with the illness are suffering respiratory problems, including coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. Some also experienced vomiting, fatigue and fevers.
Two thirds of those with the illness are 18 to 34 years old, while 16 per cent are under 18, the CDC said. Officials have so far been unable to single out a single device, cartridge or substance linked to all cases.
The CDC is expected to update the number of known cases on Thursday, which could see a significant increase from the 530 cases reported in the agency’s latest announcement on 17 September.
Health bodies in the UK, where 3.6 million people now use e-cigarettes, sought to reassure e-cigarette users concerned about the outbreak in the US.
Martin Dockrell, head of tobacco control at Public Health England (PHE), said: “A full investigation is not yet available but we’ve heard reports that most of these cases were linked to people using illicit vaping fluid bought on the streets or homemade, some containing cannabis products, like THC, or synthetic cannabinoids, like Spice.
“Unlike the US, all e-cigarette products in the UK are tightly regulated for quality and safety by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and they operate the Yellow Card Scheme, encouraging vapers to report any bad experiences.”
While several countries, including India and South Korea have moved to ban vaping products, Prof Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh called this “misleading and potentially irresponsible.
“It seems highly unlikely that widely available nicotine containing vaping products, particularly of the type regulated in Europe, are causing these cases.
“Authorities who are reacting to these cases by advising no one to vape are by default sending the message to people who have quit smoking through vaping that they should return to tobacco ... which we know carries multiple risks to health.”
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