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CDC Says People Should Consider Not Using E-Cigarettes As Investigation Continues


Investigators are learning more about the cluster of severe lung illnesses among people who vape. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there are now 450 reported cases in 33 states, and five deaths have been reported. Those are in Illinois, Oregon, Indiana, Minnesota and California. NPR's Allison Aubrey spoke with Ari earlier today.


So what's the latest on this?

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Well, during a briefing this afternoon, officials at the CDC and FDA say they still don't know what's causing these illnesses. It's pretty frustrating, but they have learned a lot more about the people who have fallen ill. A report of cases from Illinois and Wisconsin finds that 83% are male. The average age is 19, so these are young men who have otherwise been healthy. Most are vaping THC. That's the psychoactive component of cannabis. Some are vaping a combination of nicotine and cannabis. And there are also some reports of CBD use. So the tough nut to crack here is that patients have reported using so many different products. And the CDC says, you know, since no single product has been definitively tied to all these cases, they're still in fact-finding mode.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. And tell us about the sickness that people are getting.

AUBREY: Well, the report from Illinois and Wisconsin finds that almost all of the patients end up in the hospital. Many require breathing support, either mechanical ventilation or oxygen. The typical onset includes shortness of breath, chest pain that worsens over a number of days. Many also described GI symptoms, so nausea, vomiting. A lot of people have fevers, headaches, fatigue. And doctors say they don't know yet whether these patients will have long-term damage to their lungs. But they certainly have gotten very, very, very sick.

SHAPIRO: There was a report yesterday from New York state that vitamin E is a focus of the investigation there. What did the FDA say about the role vitamin E in vaping cartridges might be playing?

AUBREY: Well, they downplayed it a bit. I mean, today, officials at the FDA say they have about 120 samples. So these are cartridges or products that patients had used that they've now handed over for analysis. And the investigators are testing all of them for a range of compounds, toxins, additives. And since, so far, no one substance, including vitamin E, has been identified in all of these samples, they got to keep looking.

SHAPIRO: And investigators in New York say it's possible people who have gotten sick are vaping black market products that they bought off the streets. Is that part of the concern nationwide?

AUBREY: Absolutely. I mean, officials say it can be difficult to know what is in your vaping cartridge, especially if you're buying an unregulated product off the street as opposed to a labeled product from an authorized retailer. And that's because who knows how it's been altered or what compounds have been added? And given the rise in really serious illnesses, the FDA's Mitch Zeller had this to say.

MITCH ZELLER: With these increasing reports, if you're thinking of purchasing one of these products off the street out of the back of a car, out of a trunk, in an alley or if you're going to then go home and make modifications to the product yourself using something that you purchased from some third party or got from a friend, think twice.

AUBREY: So the CDC is now saying that people should consider not using e-cigarettes at all of any type while this investigation is going on.

SHAPIRO: So what is the bottom line for people who vape right now?

AUBREY: Well, the CDC says for smokers who are vaping nicotine as a way to try to quit cigarettes, they say consult with your doctor, your health care provider and use proven treatments not e-cigarettes.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Allison Aubrey, thank you.

AUBREY: Thank you, Ari.


Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.