Monday September 16, 2019

U.S. Investigating What might Be Causing Hundreds of Serious Breathing Illnesses in People Who Use E-Cigarettes

They have identified about 450 possible cases in 33 states, including six deaths

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US, Breathing Illnesses, E Cigarettes
FILE - A liquid nicotine solution is poured into a vaping device at a store in New York, Feb. 20, 2014. In September 2019, U.S. health officials are investigating what might be causing hundreds of serious breathing illnesses in people who vape. VOA

U.S. health officials are investigating what might be causing hundreds of serious breathing illnesses in people who use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. They have identified about 450 possible cases in 33 states, including six deaths.

A look at what we know so far about the outbreak as the investigation continues:

What are the symptoms?

Patients are coming into hospitals with cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and vomiting.

US, Breathing Illnesses, E Cigarettes
FILE – A man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette in Portland, Maine, Aug. 28, 2019. VOA

How serious are these illnesses?

Many of the reports involve severe, life-threatening illnesses in previously healthy people. Many patients received oxygen. Some needed to be put on breathing machines before they recovered. Antibiotics didn’t work, and it’s not clear yet whether steroid drugs helped.

What vaping products are involved?

No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified. Most of the patients say they vaped products containing THC, the high-producing ingredient in marijuana. Others say they vaped only nicotine and others say they vaped both THC and nicotine.

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Is there a common thread?

Doctors don’t believe this is caused by a germ. Instead, they suspect chemical exposure. And vape juice contains many possible culprits.

After testing products, New York has focused its investigation on vitamin E acetate, which recently has been used as a thickener, particularly in black market vape cartridges. Suppliers say it dilutes vape oils without making them look watery. Vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, but inhaling oily vitamin E droplets into the lungs can trigger pneumonia.

Immune cells containing oily droplets have been found in the lungs of some patients. These large cells, called macrophages, are the cleanup crew of the immune system. University of Utah doctors think this could be a marker for vaping injury. They wrote up their findings about six patients in the New England Journal of Medicine.

US, Breathing Illnesses, E Cigarettes
U.S. health officials are investigating what might be causing hundreds of serious breathing illnesses in people who use e-cigarettes and other vaping devices. Pixabay

What else is in vape liquids?

Most e-cigarettes contain colorless, flavorless chemicals such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which create an inhalable vapor when heated. The chemicals are considered safe as food additives but their long-term effects when inhaled have not been studied.

Researchers have found cancer-causing chemicals in e-cigarette vapor, such as formaldehyde. However, it’s not yet clear whether those chemicals are present in high enough amounts to cause harm.

E-cigarette vapor contains tiny particles that carry flavorings. Some early-stage laboratory and animal studies suggest these flavor particles can damage the lungs, airways and blood vessels, but more research is needed to better understand how human bodies react to them.

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Much less is known about the contents of THC oils and how those chemicals behave when heated.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point because we know so little,” said Dr. David Christiani of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Is this brand new?

There have been occasional reports of similar illnesses, including one from 2000 that was tied to inhaling homemade marijuana-infused oil vapor. The large number of cases is new and alarming to public health officials.

Who is investigating and what are they doing?

State and federal health officials are testing products and analyzing cases for clues.

New York is issuing subpoenas to three companies that sell vaping additives made from vitamin E acetate. The state wants to know more about the ingredients, the quality of the raw materials, any safety testing performed, sales of the products during the past three years and what other additives the companies sell.

Are products from state-licensed dispensaries safe?

Most of the cases involve products purchased on the street, not in dispensaries in states with legal sales of medical or recreational weed. One person who died in Oregon had used an e-cigarette containing marijuana oil purchased from a dispensary. Health officials there don’t know whether the product was contaminated or whether the victim may have added something to the liquid in the device after buying it.

What’s the best advice right now?

Health officials are urging people to stop vaping and to get medical care if they have trouble breathing or chest pain after vaping. (VOA)

Next Story

Why Young Americans Are Not Moving A Lot Since The Great Recession

Young American adults are staying put more since the Great Recession, but when they do move, they’re not going to the same places as they did before the economic downturn

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US, America, Millennials, Migration
Frey, who keeps expecting millennial migration rates to pick up, is disappointed with the numbers. Wikimedia Commons

Young Americans are staying put more since the Great Recession, but when they do move, they’re not going to the same places as they did before the economic downturn of 2007-2009.

In the three years leading up to the recession, more Americans in their 20s and 30s headed to Riverside (California), Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte (North Carolina), according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

“Those were more kind of ‘We’re coming there to buy a house and get a job and make things go,’” says demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution.

Things changed during the recession and in the years that followed.

From 2007 to 2012, America’s metro areas that gained the most millennials were Denver, Houston, Washington, D.C.; Austin (Texas) and Seattle. From 2012 to 2017, the metropolitan areas with the highest net millennial migration were Houston, Denver, Dallas, Seattle and Austin.

US, America, Millennials, Migration
Where US millennials are moving. VOA

“Young people may not be finding the job that they want and they’re not be able to buy a home that they’d like to buy,” Frey says. “At least they want to be in a place maybe where the action is for younger people, the kind with a young person’s amenities, or what you might call places with a cool factor.”

Overall, U.S. millennials are moving at the lowest rate since at least 1996. In 2017, their migration rate was 17%, well below the pre-recession number of almost 23%.

Frey, who keeps expecting millennial migration rates to pick up, is disappointed with the numbers.

“Migration is good for the economy in the sense that people are more able to adapt to changing economic circumstances… if they move to places where jobs are being created,” Frey says.

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“Especially if it’s a movement to purchase a home and to start investing in their future in terms of wealth creation and so forth. I think that’s important so that they’re not stuck in a way that makes them feel like they’re being left behind.”

Frey sees signs that millennials are starting to move to the suburbs and smaller metropolitan areas, as well as to cities located in the interior part of the United States rather than on either the East or West Coast.

“I’m suggesting that when we look at the next round of migration rates, when they come out, we’re going to see a little bit more movement to those kind of more, you know, economically viable and prosperous areas rather than to the cooler areas,” he says. (VOA)