SALT LAKE CITY — State health officials are investigating five recent cases of lung disease in teenagers and young adults who all reported vaping or using other inhalational drugs.
“These people were really sick. All of them had to be hospitalized, many were put on ventilators to help them breathe,” said Keegan McCaffrey, epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health.
“The patients experienced shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and coughs. Symptoms worsened over a period of days or weeks before admission to the hospital,” the department said in a statement.
Other states have recently seen similar cases in youth, with Wisconsin investigating multiple cases within the last couple of weeks, according to McCaffrey.
The Utah Department of Health is now working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state health departments to figure out what’s behind the illnesses.
“That’s definitely not normal to see in teenagers and young adults, especially when many of our cases are reporting vaping or other inhalational drug use. We want to see what’s actually behind it, if it’s a particular product or if it’s some other exposure, some other long term trend, we want to figure out what’s causing it,” McCaffrey explained.
Some of the Utah patients needed help breathing. They all improved with treatment, according to state health officials, but it is unknown whether they’ll face long-term health effects.
Although many of the patients in Utah and other states reported that they had recently used vaping devices, McCaffrey said it’s too soon to know whether the illnesses were related to vaping or some other type of exposure.
“We just know vaping’s a commonality,” he said.
As doctors are not required to report lung disease to local health officials, Utah epidemiologists are relying on physicians and clinicians to choose to report similar cases to the state health department or local health departments.
McCaffrey said he and others are investigating the cases “urgently.”
“The fact that we have young people with severe lung disease is very concerning. And so we are moving quickly to try and find if there are any additional cases, rule out other reports,” he said.
He wanted to remind people that e-cigarettes are not safe for young adults, pregnant women or those who aren’t already using e-cigarettes.
Help for quitting tobacco is available at waytoquit.org.