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Minnesota investigates 21 potential cases of lung disease linked to vaping, adding to national trend

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — Hundreds of potential cases of severe lung disease have been reported across the United States in recent weeks, all of which have been linked to vaping.

Patients have been hospitalized on a weekly basis, citing difficulty breathing, chest pain and nausea among other symptoms. 

Minnesota has been no exception to the ominous trend.

The Minnesota Department of Health, along with state departments across the country, are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to try to find the exact cause.

As of Aug. 22, 193 potential cases of severe lung illness associated with vaping had been reported by 22 states, the CDC reported. According to NBC News, those numbers may have since jumped to nearly 300. Last week, the first death linked to vaping was reported in Illinois.

There have been several cases of patients experiencing severe lung damage linked to vaping within Mayo Clinic Health system, according to Dr. Paul Scanlon, a physician in Pulmonary and Critical Care at Mayo Clinic.

“It’s not too surprising,” Scanlon said of the recent uptick in health issues linked to vaping. Scanlon said the behavior has not been tested for long-term health effects, much like when cigarettes were first popularized in the U.S.

What makes these cases different to other cases linked to vaping, according to Dr. Xavier Fonseca Fuentes, a Mayo Clinic physician also in Pulmonary and Critical Care, is that these cases are presenting as more abrupt than previously seen.

“Vaping became popular among our population because it was sold as a healthier option when compared to [other tobacco products],” Fonseca Fuentes said. “Studies have shown there is presence of a lot of compounds that are directly related to cancer and lung injury. So they are not safe or healthy at all.”

The Minnesota Department of Health is currently investigating 21 reported cases in the state, according to Dr. Stacy Holzbauer, who works for the department investigating these cases.

Holzbauer said part of the investigation involves working with the Federal Drug Administration and collecting the cartridges of the products linked to those who have fallen ill, and coordinating with different health departments across the country.

The age range of people who have reported lung disease in Minnesota is between 16 and 37 years old, Holzbauer said. The CDC said these cases are primarily among teenagers and young adults.

Holzbauer said they have not yet identified what products or substances may be causing the illnesses, which is why the Department of Health is interested in testing products. 

Some harmful substances present in many vaping products include nicotine, benzine, which is a known carcinogen and metals such as nickel. One flavoring substance sometimes used in vape products called diacetyl has been known to cause an asthma-like condition called “popcorn lung,” Scanlon said.

Despite the mystery that still surrounds cause of recent lung illness, some products are well known among health professionals to be dangerous. Unfortunately, many consumers may be unaware of these risks.

For example, vaping cannabis oil is known to have dangerous health implications, causing inflammatory conditions, Scanlon said.

“It’s so obvious that it sort of begs the question, ‘Who ever thought that vaping oils was a good idea?’” Scanlon said.

While the cases of lung disease have not been linked to one particular vaping product or brand, Scanlon said these cases raise concerns about the safety of the use of these products at all.

“In general, I think vaping is a very bad idea,” Scanlon said.

Additionally, while vaping is often positioned as an alternative to keep people from smoking, Scanlon said there is a correlation between smoking and vaping.

“We know that people who vape are much more likely to smoke cigarettes than people who don’t,” he said.

Dr. Fonseca Fuentes said he would like to encourage health providers to increase their suspicion level when they see people with respiratory issues, and ask people if they have used e-cigarettes.

“We really don’t know what is causing this,” he added.

Holzbauer said the Minnesota Department of Health would like to encourage people who experience any lung symptoms resulting from vaping to immediately stop using the product and seek care. 

“We encourage people if they are contacted by the state to please help us with this investigation because the more information we’re able to get, hopefully we’ll be able to prevent others from getting ill,” Holzbauer said.

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Nicole Valinote

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