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Amid Severe Lung Disease Cases, Minnesota Issues Warning About Vaping

Four cases of severe lung disease in the Twin Cities are being linked to vaping and e-cigarette use.

By Jeremy Olson

Four cases of severe lung disease in the Twin Cities are being linked to vaping and e-cigarette use, prompting state health officials to warn the public about the harms of these products and to advise doctors to be on the lookout.

The Minnesota Department of Health issued a warning Tuesday after receiving four case reports last week from Children’s Minnesota involving teens and young adults. The patients who suffered the illnesses all were hospitalized for more than one week, with some being admitted to intensive care.

While state health authorities have long issued warnings about vaping because of some of the contaminants in e-cigarette cartridges and products, this is the first time they have issued a public notice directly linking the use of these products to specific patient illnesses.

The illnesses appear to match lung disease cases reported in Wisconsin and Illinois, but state health authorities said they are still exploring the link to vaping in general, and to the cases in other states.

“There are still many unanswered questions, but the health harms emerging from the current epidemic of youth vaping in Minnesota continue to increase,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist and MDH medical director. “We are encouraging providers and parents to be on the lookout for vaping as a cause for unexplained breathing problems and lung injury and disease.”

The exact products used by the teens are unknown, but the state noted that some were marijuana-based while others contained nicotine. While vaping has been promoted by manufacturers as a way to wean off traditional cigarettes, health authorities have raised concerns about the contents. Testing has found harmful metals in some e-cigarette cartridges, including nickel, tin and lead.

Despite the warnings, vaping and e-cigarette usage has surged in Minnesota and in the U.S. The U.S. surgeon general has declared e-cigarette usage an epidemic. The 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that 20% of high school students regularly used e-cigarettes, and that 40% had at least tried them.

Health officials said the sickened teens and young adults suffered shortness of breath, fever, cough, and vomiting and diarrhea. They encouraged doctors to monitor for similar cases, and to ask any patients with pulmonary symptoms about tobacco and marijuana use.

“We are deeply concerned by the severe cases of lung injury associated with vaping that we are currently seeing,” said Dr. Emily Chapman, Children’s chief medical officer. “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.”

(c)2019 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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