Delaware reports first vaping-related death

DOVER — A Delawarean is among those believed to have died from complications relating to vaping within the past few months, the state announced Thursday.

In recent weeks, health experts have sounded the alarm on vaping, or electronic cigarette use, as hundreds of Americans have been hospitalized. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Delaware Division of Public Health, around 550 people have been admitted to a hospital for a lung issue believed to stem from vaping in the past two months, including 11 Delawareans.

“The Division of Public Health is saddened to announce the first death in Delaware associated with this outbreak,” DPH Director Karyl Rattay said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the individual’s family.

“This death is a harsh reminder that these illnesses are serious and life-threatening. We continue to recommend that individuals consider refraining from vaping or using e-cigarette products. At this time, no vaping is safe.”

As of Sept. 24, the CDC reported more than 800 people in 46 states have been hospitalized for vaping. At least 13 have died.

Of the 11 cases in Delaware, 10 involved THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, while the remaining incident had the user ingesting nicotine alone.

In one of those 10 instances, the user was vaping medical marijuana. DPH declined to identify the source of the marijuana.
The illnesses do not all involve the same device or manufacturer.

While just four of the 11 cases are confirmed, the others are strongly suspected to be linked, and DPH is also investigating two more possible occurrences.

Two of the 11 individuals afflicted are from Kent County, while one is from Sussex County. The average age of those affected in Delaware is 29, and eight of the 11 people impacted are male.

Citing privacy concerns, DPH declined to release even basic information about the deceased, including age, county of residence, sex and exact cause of death. Dr. Rattay said only that the person died in August after a long hospitalization believed to stem from use of vapes.

“At this point, it really is not clear at all as to what is the cause other than some exposure to vaping,” she told reporters on a conference call.

Samples submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for testing have not yet seen results, DPH said.

The CDC began its investigation into the lung illnesses on Aug. 1. It has not found evidence of any infectious disease in patients, many of whom have experienced coughing, shortness of breath or chest pain, although some have also had nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever or weight loss.

Symptoms generally develop over several days but have sometimes taken weeks to manifest.

The state notified health care providers on Aug. 20 and received several reports of possible vaping-related illnesses within a day. The agency reported those cases to the CDC on Aug. 28 and issued another update to the local medical community two days later. It put out a public news release Sept. 9.

While Delawareans are urged not to vape for at least the time being, they especially should not use any products purchased through the black market or modified. Anyone who experiences symptoms and has vaped in the last three months should seek medical attention and inform a doctor of the history of e-cig use.

As questions and concerns swirl, New York and Massachusetts have banned flavored vapes at least temporarily, and the Trump administration announced last month it plans to do the same.

Asked if DPH planned to make any recommendations to counteract the spread of illness, Dr. Rattay said the state is considering all options.

“Right now, we just don’t know enough to really be able to take specific action, whether it be legally or from a policy perspective,” she said.

Vaping indoors has been prohibited in Delaware since 2015. In response in part to a tenfold increase in the number of high school students reporting they vaped in the past 30 days from 2011 to 2018, lawmakers raised the state smoking age from 18 to 21 earlier this year.

“As we continue to learn more in Delaware and across the country, the safest way to avoid lung illness is to stop vaping,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement. “We will continue to work directly with the Division of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to learn more about what specifically is causing these illnesses, and to take action that will prevent this from affecting more Delawareans.”

For more information, go to cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html. Individuals who are concerned they are affected should contact their health care provider or call the local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. For help quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, call the Delaware Quitline at 1-866-409-1858.

Clinicians should report cases of significant respiratory illness with a history of vaping to DPH’s Bureau of Epidemiology at 1-888-295-5156.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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