Waukesha Wisconsin Police Captain Dan Baumann recently held a news conference that was described in an article published in Scientific American.
Captain Baumann said that parents of a teenage boy showed up at his police station last summer offering to cooperate with the police and explained that their teenage son was selling THC vaping products to his friends in high-school.
Thanks to cooperation by this family, the officers reported that they were able to trace drugs to Racine and Kenosha counties netting THC products totaling $1.5 million (street value) plus 31,200 filled and 98,000 unfilled vape cartridges.
These developments appear related to the heavy number of emergency room cases that were first reported mainly in Illinois and Wisconsin. From that point on, other states bordering Illinois and Wisconsin began reporting new cases.
The Initial Outbreak
The initial outbreak seemed to be concentrated in groups of male high school students. As those numbers increased the age range expanded also.
Eventually, 380 cases and six deaths were reported in thirty-six states. A government emergency operations center was activated in response to the increase in vaping-related cases.
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published an article as of September 6, 2018, describing fifty-three patients in Wisconsin and Illinois all displaying lung abnormalities. Others in this group presented with fever and liver issues with the majority having gastrointestinal symptoms.
A separate analysis of lung images of thirty-four patients with vaping-related lung injury was published in the NEJM. The authors were UCSF radiologist Travis Henry and his research team. Due to the speed in which the patients’ health deteriorates, and results of imaging, in Henry’s opinion the disorder should be called acute lung injury.
Several Clues But No Final Decision
Some of the tissue samples that were analyzed found immune cells containing fats (lipids) which would indicate lipoid pneumonia.
For a time lipoid pneumonia seemed to be the obvious diagnosis. However, this theory was challenged by Henry and other researchers. They based their opinion on the fact that the imaging does not indicate fat buildup in the lungs, which is typical of lipoid pneumonia.
Vitamin E Acetate
There was also the possibility that vitamin E acetate (a lipid) might cause vaping illness. However, that theory was short-lived when the FDA issued a statement that vitamin E had not been found in the majority of samples that were tested.
Even after exhaustive testing of patients and product, no other substances of this nature had been found.
There are only two commonalities that link hundreds of cases:
- That the patients had vaped recently, and
- They all reside in the United States or U.S. territories
In spite of the fact that Wisconsin is in close proximity to Canada, to date, there has only been one case of vaping-related illness reported in that country.
A spokesman for Canada’s health agency gave credit to its strict vaping laws. Sales of vaping products whether or not they contain nicotine are prohibited to anyone under the age of eighteen.
Sales of vaping products are under strict government control even on social media. Canada has begun to step up compliance and enforcement in light of recent events in the United States.
A New Disease
Public health officials and others believe that the mysterious lung-related vaping condition will prove to be a new disease. Evidence of that would be the mid-2019 spike in emergency room patients seeking help for severe respiratory illnesses.
Dallas County Health Director Philip Huang said his office is handling the outbreak in a similar fashion to a typical foodborne outbreak. They are collecting specimens, looking for contamination, checking medical charts, and comparing clinical symptoms.
But Dr. Huang admits that it is “crazy” to see normal healthy teens being put on ventilators.
Health Officials: What is in the Vape Pods?
The investigation by health officials found that in most cases the patients had been using pods that contained THC which is the active ingredient found in cannabis. Yet the officials agreed that not all of the patients vape with THC.
The vaping industry complicates the issue in their attempt to separate their merchandise from black market products sold on the street. These manufacturers are desperately trying to tie the outbreak to street sales.
The investigators, however, are reserving their opinion in this regard as they have been unable to confirm the origin of these products.
When questioned, most patients claim they only vape using products containing nicotine. The investigators question the reliability of these admissions as patients may hesitate to say otherwise if the state in which they live has not yet decriminalized THC use.
The Government Steps In
Federal officials have announced plans to ban all flavors in e-cigarettes except tobacco flavoring. Since the procedure may take a few weeks, New York and Michigan have already put similar bans into effect.
The various health officials, clinicians, physicians, researchers and our government stress that they do not know how long it will take to discover the origin of this mysterious disease. Therefore, the only prevention lies in not vaping.
What are your thoughts about this mysterious outbreak?