Illness associated with vaping hits area

STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson County Health Department has reported a Jefferson County man in his 20s has become the first local person to be diagnosed with a severe lung illness that has been associated with vaping, or e-cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, as of Friday, there were 450 possible cases in 33 states. The CDC reported five deaths have been reported.

Nicole Balakos, health department commissioner, said the man who is suffering with the lung illness was transported to a Pittsburgh hospital following initial local treatment.

Balakos said state and national health organizations have developed a series of questions to ask patients while they are trying to rule out other causes for an illness and find a common denominator.

“It is becoming serious so quickly,” she said.

Balakos noted that the initial investigation centered on street-sold products and, as the investigation widened, the facts show the cases include patients who used THC, THC with nicotine and nicotine products.

“At this point, the investigation is ongoing to identify what specific factors are contributing to the vaping incidents where these patients are experiencing these life-threatening illnesses,” she said. “We simply don’t have enough data yet to say which products may be safe to use. When we have a patient identified who has this type of illness in the county, it is triggering a team investigation similar to how we react to a communicable disease.

The Ohio Department of Health is working in conjunction with the CDC to investigate the source of the vaping pen, the source of the refills and other data on the lifestyle factors to determine if the patient illness is vaping-related or not.”

Balakos said vaping is especially appealing to teens and young adults who see it as an alternative to cigarettes.

“That is a huge mistake,” she said. “Parents should not taking vaping as a harmless pastime. The health impact of vaping is becoming apparent after only a few years of use. We have grave concerns about what the longer term usage data could reveal. One of the more frightening aspects of vaping is how easy it is to go undetected. Parents need to be diligent about searching for any vaping products and begin to discuss the danger of vaping early in the elementary grades before vaping typically becomes a habit. Data shows that middle schoolers are often already indulging in vaping.”

According to the CDC, patient respiratory symptoms have included cough, shortness of breath and fatigue.

In some cases, symptoms worsened during a period of days or weeks and required hospitalization. Other symptoms reported by some patients included fever, chest pain, weight loss, nausea and diarrhea.

“We are seeing a tremendous increase in vaping among our youth, which is a public health crisis,” said Ohio Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton. “There is a perception that vaping is safe, and these reports of serious pulmonary illness linked to e-cigarettes or vaping product use show that this is simply not true.”

Besides nicotine, e-cigarette aerosol that users inhale can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including cancer-causing chemicals; heavy metals including as nickel, tin and lead; volatile organic compounds which can adversely impact health; ultrafine particles that can reach deep into lungs; and flavorings such as diacetyl, a chemical used to give a butter-like flavor linked to serious lung disease, the state health department reported.

“Anyone who thinks that they may be experiencing serious breathing problems linked to vaping should seek immediate medical attention,” Acton said.