Vaping-Related Illnesses and Death Toll Continue to Rise, But the Outbreak May Be Nearing an End

Jasmine Aguilera

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Jan. 16 that, as of Jan. 14, the number of people who have died from a vaping-related illness has increased to 60, and sicknesses have been reported in every U.S. state and two U.S. territories.

A total of 2,668 people across all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have been hospitalized for these serious lung ailments. The CDC is also investigating other deaths, in addition to the 60 confirmed to be related to e-cigarette- or vaping product-use-associated lung injury (EVALI).

Deceased patients ranged in age from 15 to 75, with a median age of 51, the CDC said.

The CDC had a break in its EVALI investigation in November, when laboratory tests revealed that lung fluid samples taken from 29 patients all contained the oily substance vitamin E acetate, which is sometimes added to cannabis vaping oils to stretch their THC content. In December, the agency released new data that support that theory.

The agency had previously announced that THC vaping products have been tied to hundreds of cases and many of the deaths from the outbreak, and the latest finding points to why that might be the case. Still, the CDC cautions that multiple chemicals could be causing vaping-related illnesses.

“The results reinforced previous CDC recommendations to not use e-cigarette or vaping products that contain THC, particularly from informal sources like friends and family, online dealers or the illicit market,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, on a Nov. 8, 2019 call with reporters. In an update released in December, the CDC confirmed that many people used products branded as Dank Vapes, a bootleg network of illicit cannabis products, before getting sick.

Also in December, the CDC announced that the EVALI outbreak might be reaching an end. The agency’s data show that the number of hospitalized patients peaked in September, and have been falling since. Nevertheless, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continue to urge the public not to vape at all. “It is pretty much impossible to know what is in your e-cigarette vaping product,” Schuchat said on a press call this past fall. “With all the data that I’ve been seeing, I don’t know what safe is right now.”