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What You Need to Know About the Mysterious Lung Disease Affecting E-Cigarette Users

Five people around the country have died, and 450 cases are under investigation as possibly related to the mystery illness.

Flickr/Vaping360

You’ve probably always had a vague sense that, yes, vaping isn’t great for the respiratory system. But a series of serious lung illnesses in regular—and, in some cases, underage e-cigarette users—has snowballed into an official warning from the Centers for Disease Control.

According to the CDC, five deaths have been linked to vaping to date while 450 other suspicious cases of lung illness are under investigation to determine if e-cigarette usage could have been a factor.

In a call with reporters, Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman, the CDC Incident Manager for this outbreak, said the agency “has advised that individuals consider not using e-cigarettes because as of now, this is the primary means of preventing this type of severe lung disease.”

“And of course e-cigarette use is never safe for youth, young adults, or pregnant women,” she added.

The blanket warning to avoid vaping is all the more remarkable because, well, the agency does not know exactly what’s happening to make people sick, just that the illnesses “are likely associated with a chemical exposure.”

Some laboratories have identified vitamin E acetate, an oil derived from vitamin E often found in skin creams, as the potential cause of the illnesses. The FDA found it in samples of marijuana vaping products used by patients in multiple states who have fallen ill.

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But at this time, the CDC doesn’t feel it has enough evidence to definitively say that vitamin E acetate is the cause of this severe pulmonary disease.

Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director, said his agency is working hard and collaborating with the Food and Drug Administration and state governments to figure it out.

“All available information is being carefully analyzed, and these initial findings are helping us narrow the focus of our investigation and get us closer to the answers needed to save lives.”

And while the agency strongly recommends that people stop using e-cigarettes altogether, it has advice for people unable or unwilling to do so. Namely, that they monitor themselves for potential systems (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever) and seek medical attention if they have any concerns.

The CDC also says that people should only buy e-cigarette products from official retailers and not modify them in any way not intended by the manufacturer.