Despite lingering e-cigarette bans across several states and cities, the uproar surrounding the recent outbreak of vape-related illnesses and deaths has drastically died down. And according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control, cases of lung sickness linked to vaping are on the decline as well. Instances of emergency room visits for vaping lung injuries are still higher than they were when they began to rise sharply in June. But they’re lower now than they were when visits peaked in mid-September.
Vape-Related Lung Illnesses Seem to Be Declining
On Friday, the CDC released four reports on the ongoing outbreak of EVALI, which stands for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury. Those reports confirm a decline in emergency room visits related to EVALI.
The reports also provide further evidence to support the link between vitamin E acetate and vaping illnesses. The CDC first identified vitamin E acetate as a potential culprit back in September after analyzing lung tissue in affected patients. Vitamin E acetate has been commonly used in both regulated and counterfeit THC vape cartridges, though many weed-legal states do not have regulations on vitamin E acetate specifically.
The CDC’s new report shows that vitamin E acetate turned up in the lung fluid of 48 out of 51 EVALI patients. By contrast, vitamin E acetate was not found in the lung fluid of healthy individuals. FDA and state laboratories also found vitamin E acetate in THC product samples across 16 states.
New Findings Point to THC Cartridges Over E-Cigarettes
While the CDC’s latest round of reports shouldn’t be taken to mean that vaping nicotine products is safe, they do shift the focus over to THC cartridges in particular. States like Massachusetts had enacted temporary bans on cannabis vaping products. But other states and cities like New York, Michigan and San Francisco have only banned certain e-cigarette products, not THC cartridges.
Still, the CDC recommends that people avoid THC-containing e-cigarette or vaping products, especially if they’re obtained from friends, family or in-person or online sellers. Furthermore, the CDC isn’t ruling out the possibility that other substances and product sources beyond vitamin E and weed vapes are also connected to EVALI. There could be more than one cause at play.
The CDC is also recommending that manufacturers avoid adding vitamin E acetate to any cannabis or nicotine vaping products.
Hospitals Work with CDC to Improve Treatment of EVALI Patients
In a separate report, the CDC found that there were 2,409 patients with EVALI whose cases were reported to the CDC as of Dec. 10. Of those, 31 patients who had been discharged from the hospital got sick again and had to go back. Seven of those patients died after being discharged, bringing the total EVALI-related death toll to 54.
Patients who got sick or who died after leaving the hospital were mostly those with history of heart and respiratory disease. They were also more likely to be 50 or older. To better treat these at-risk patients, the CDC now wants hospitals to wait until EVALI patients are clinically stable before they’re discharged.
The CDC is encouraging patients who have received treatment for EVALI to follow up with a doctor two days after their discharge. Previously, the CDC had only recommended a two-week follow-up.