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September 30, 2019

CDC: Most cases of mysterious lung illness are linked to vaping THC

Daily Briefing

    Federal and state health officials on Friday said their investigation into an outbreak of a lung illness linked to e-cigarettes and vaping products shows a majority of patients used products containing the marijuana compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—but investigators said they are not yet narrowing the scope of their probe, Vox reports.

    Background: Cases of a mysterious vaping illness jump by 52%, CDC says

    CDC on Thursday said officials from 46 states and one U.S. territory have reported 805 confirmed and probable cases of lung illness linked to e-cigarettes and vaping products—that is up 52% from last week, when the agency was tracking 530 such cases. CDC also reported 12 deaths believed to be tied to the illness in 10 states. Mississippi on Thursday reported a 13th death tied to the illness.

    Anne Schuchat—CDC's principal deputy director, who is overseeing the agency's investigation into the matter—said she expects the number of cases to increase further as state officials report new cases in the ongoing outbreak.

    CDC finds most patients with lung illness report using e-cigarette products containing THC

    CDC on Friday released a pair of reports showing a majority of the patients sickened with the lung illness used e-cigarettes containing THC, the high-inducing chemical found in marijuana. Many of those patients reported using illicit vaping products.

    For instance, one CDC report that analyzed 514 cases across the United States found that 76.9% of patients reported using e-cigarettes containing THC, while 16% reported vaping just nicotine. CDC also noted 69% of cases involved men and 62% of cases involved patients between the ages of 18 and 34, of whom more than 50% are under age 25. CDC said California, Texas, Wisconsin, and Illinois have reported the highest number of lung illness cases to date.

    In a separate report, CDC interviewed 86 of the 127 patients with confirmed and probable cases of the lung illness in Illinois and Wisconsin. The researchers found 87% of patients reported vaping a THC product. According to the report, 96% of the THC products reportedly used involved pre-packaged, pre-filled cartridges or pods, which patients said they did not modify. However, many of those patients said they obtained the THC products from "informal sources such as friends, family members, illicit dealers, or off the street."

    CDC found patients reported using 234 different vaping products across 87 brands. However, CDC in the report noted 66% of patients reported using pre-filled THC cartridges sold under the name Dank Vapes. CDC in the report wrote Dank Vapes is "the most prominent in a class of largely counterfeit brands."

    Investigation is ongoing, CDC says

    CDC in the report stressed that the investigation is ongoing, and it has not yet identified a single product or device that is causing the illnesses.

    Schuchat said, "The outbreak currently is pointing to a greater concern around THC-containing products." However, Schuchat noted that CDC is not yet narrowing the scope of its investigation and continues to recommend individuals avoid using e-cigarette products, particularly products containing THC.

    "The outbreak is occurring in the context of a dynamic marketplace," Schuchat said. "We do not know yet what exactly is making people sick," including  "[w]hether particular solvents or adulterants are leading to lung injury, or whether cases stem from a single supplier or multiple ones" (Thielking, STAT News, 9/27; Sun/McGinley, Washington Post, 9/27; Boyles, MedPage Today, 9/27; Stobbe, Associated Press, 9/27; Grady, New York Times, 9/27; Belluz, Vox, 9/27).

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