The Mysterious Vaping Illness That’s ‘Becoming an Epidemic’

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Now some subset of these products is causing a serious lung disease that even cigarettes, while lethal in the long run, don’t cause in young people. Lobbyists and company officials in both industries are scrambling to blame unregulated products.

The spate of illnesses has made news again of Juul Labs, maker of the blockbuster e-cigarette device blamed for the surge in teenage vaping. In a television interview, Kevin Burns, the company’s chief executive, said he did not know of evidence linking the recent cases to Juul’s products.

On lung scans, the illnesses look at first like a serious viral or bacterial pneumonia, but tests show no infection. “We’ve run all these tests looking for bacteria, looking for viruses and coming up negative,” said Dr. Dixie Harris, a critical care pulmonologist in Salt Lake City, who has consulted on four such patients and reviewed case files of nine others in the state.

On Aug. 6, Dr. Harris was working in a Salt Lake City-area hospital — she declined to provide more detail in order to protect patient privacy rights — when she was called to the intensive care unit to consult on a patient with the severe lung ailment.

The patient was in his 20s and a heavy e-cigarette user who also vaped THC.

She later consulted with two dozen hospitals around the state on patients with difficult pulmonary or critical care issues. “I saw a second case,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Wait a second, this is weird — two hospitals, two young people, almost identical story.’”

The next morning, she called Dr. Joseph Miner, the chief medical officer for the Utah state health department, who told her he would try to figure out what was going on.

In the ensuing weeks, Dr. Harris saw two other patients firsthand and reviewed nine other cases for the hospital group where she works, Intermountain Healthcare, which has 24 hospitals in Utah and Idaho. She said the first 10 cases were from eight different hospitals; over all, the state of Utah reported 21 cases.



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