Officials in Midwest confirm at least 22 cases of vaping-related lung disease

Health officials in the Midwest have confirmed at least 22 cases of vaping-related lung injury this month, according to recent reports, and are in the process of investigating as many as 18 more.

Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois have all reported instances of patients presenting to local hospitals with “severe” lung disease, characterized in most cases by shortness of breath, fever, cough, fatigue, weight loss and vomiting. Many patients have been teens who disclosed vaping either nicotine or marijuana products.

“We are deeply concerned by the severe cases of lung injury associated with vaping that we are currently seeing,” Emily Chapman, chief medical officer at Children’s Minnesota, said in a statement released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) August 13. “These cases are extremely complex to diagnose, as symptoms can mimic a common infection yet can lead to severe complications and extended hospitalization. Medical attention is essential; respiratory conditions can continue to decline without proper treatment.”

To date, Children’s Minnesota has reported four cases of severe lung injury due to vaping. MDH’s release stated the cases were similar to those seen in Wisconsin and Illinois but maintained it was “too early to say whether they are connected.”

In Minnesota, cases have involved hospitalizations that lasted weeks, with some patients requiring admission to the ICU. Some of those patients reported headaches, dizziness and chest pain in addition to their pulmonary symptoms.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) has confirmed 12 cases of vaping-related lung disease and is investigating 13 more in patients who reported having vaped or “dabbed” nicotine or marijuana recently. WDHS secretary Andrea Palm said in a statement the department is continuing to interview patients to pin down a possible explanation for the influx of recent hospitalizations, but she and officials in Minnesota both said they were still unsure of which products or brands patients had been using.

“The products used could include a number of substances, including nicotine, THC, synthetic cannabinoids or a combination of these,” Palm said.

In Illinois, health officials have reported six confirmed cases of severe breathing problems in young people, with five more under investigation. In those cases, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said, patients’ symptoms worsened over a period of days or weeks before they were admitted to the hospital.

WDHS said patients in Wisconsin have improved with treatment, but it’s still unknown if these cases will have any long-term impacts. The situation is similar in Illinois.

“IDPH is working with local health departments and hospitals to investigate reported cases of hospitalized individuals with unexplained respiratory illness and a history of vaping,” IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “The short- and long-term effects of vaping are still being researched, but these recent hospitalizations have shown that there is the potential for immediate health consequences.”