Saturday January 18, 2020

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

Know About the Adverse Health Effects of E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes and the risks of chronic lung disease

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e-cigarettes
Dr Ashu Abhishek, Senior Consultant, Oncology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI) talks about the high risks of smoking e-cigarettes. Pixabay

With ample evidence available which links tobacco/nicotine to so many health-related issues (cancer, cardiac, pulmonary, psychological) it is still an ever growing industry in almost all countries around the world. This despite the fact that tobacco has been linked to cancer as far back as the 1950s.

Dr Ashu Abhishek, Senior Consultant, Oncology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI) talks about the high risks of smoking the e-cigarette variety. With rising awareness numerous alternatives are available in the market– e-cigarettes being one of the most important ones.

E-cigarettes are also known as e-cigs, ENDS or ANDS (electronic/ alternative nicotine delivery system), e-hookahs, vape pens or now even fancy pipes and flash drives.

e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes are also known as e-cigs, ENDS or ANDS (electronic/ alternative nicotine delivery system), e-hookahs, vape pens or now even fancy pipes and flash drives. Pixabay

Working of e-cigarettes is based on a battery operated heating device to heat any liquid into aerosol that imitates smoke/ vapour (Vaping). The idea was pretty good had it been restricted to nicotine or any chemical free device, but alas, it is now well known that these e-cigs, too, are harmful, leading to a number of countries imposing bans on these devices now.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, e-cigs are not always nicotine free, although the quantity may be less. Moreover the chemical used to produce aerosol or generated as a by-product in these devices may be synthetic like propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine for fogging.

Volatile organic compounds or VOCs, flavouring chemicals like diacetyl, Formaldehyde for a dry puff produced due to overheating are known not only to be cancer related but also causes chronic irritation in the lungs leading to airway diseases, asthma, cough, bronchitis, nose and throat irritation, headache and nausea.

Stress on cardiac functions, derangements in liver and kidney function and also psychological issues like anxiety, irritation, etc can be a result.

The issue with e-cigs is that even food and drug regulatory authorities in various countries are not aware of long term effect of many constituents used in these devices by many manufacturers. This is the reason there are no restrictions in the composition. Moreover, most of the potentially harmful constituents are not labelled correctly.

e-cigarettes
Working of e-cigarettes is based on a battery operated heating device to heat any liquid into aerosol that imitates smoke/ vapour. Pixabay

The other problem with e-cigs is that as it has ironically been thought to be a safe alternative to nicotine. This is not true because even though the actual presence of nicotine is in smaller amounts, the combination of other chemicals is still considered harmful. Majority of smokers do not switch completely, instead they end up being dual smokers of conventional and electronic cigarettes at the same time, which is more dangerous.

The false hope of being a safe alternative has led to use of multiple puffs of so called fractionated dose which ultimately ends up in almost similar if not more exposure over time. The availability in the form of flash drives and fancy pens has also made e-cig popular amongst the youth and even with school children. Resulting in more ruthless penetration of vaping.

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What is more alarming is the so-called gateway theory which says if less deleterious drugs are readily available, it may make way for more dangerous drugs later. Thus, e-cigs with known ill effects on the body be it cancerous or even non-cancerous chronic lung diseases, should not be promoted as a smart alternative to smoking. It has no potential benefits and it can never be a natural way towards a healthier or fitter life. (IANS)