More than 20 people have been hospitalized across the midwestern United States due to severe breathing problems linked to vaping.
The hospitalizations occurred to individuals in three different states: four in Minnesota, 12 in Wisconsin and six in Illinois.
The exact reasons for the illnesses aren’t yet clear. Doctors are still determining what devices were used, where they were purchased, or what was in them. But many of the patients were apparently young adults–little surprise given the popularity of e-cigarettes like Juul. And some were vaping both nicotine and THC.
“We know there are certain characteristics in common with these cases, but we have not been able to get to the bottom of exactly what aspect of the vaping habit or product or solvent or oil is causing the injury,” Dr. Emily Chapman, chief medical officer for Children’s Minnesota, a pediatric health system headquartered in Minneapolis, told NBC News.
Chapman said that the four teenaged patients who were admitted to Children’s Minnesota were originally diagnosed as having a respiratory infection like pneumonia, but that they got worse when given treatment.
“They have progressed to have significant difficulty with their breathing and increasing lung distress,” Chapman told NBC. “They’ve ended up needing our intensive care unit and in some cases assistance with their breathing.”
In a particularly frightening case, Dylan Nelson, a 26-year-old from Wisconsin, fell ill after using a new vape cartridge. After checking into the hospital the following morning, his condition worsened as his lungs filled with fluid, prompting doctors to put him in a medically induced coma.
According to Nelson’s brother, Patrick Degrave, Nelson purchased the cartridge off the street.
“People will buy them from the states where it is legal and they’ll bring them back to states such as Wisconsin where it’s not legal,” DeGrave told NBC. “You don’t know if you’re buying something from a middle man that picked it up from a dispensary or if you’re buying it from somebody who has tampered with it and made their own mixture.”
Vaping has skyrocketed in recent years, particularly among younger people. A survey from Gallup released last month found that nearly 20 percent of Americans 30 and younger said they had vaped in the last week. The same poll found that cigarette smoking among Americans had plummeted to an all-time low.
Billed as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, there is still little understood about the health risks of vaping, though medical officials have sounded the alarm over its dangers. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration requested comments on a proposal that would add a number of chemicals to the list of harmful ingredients in tobacco products, including certain compounds formed when e-liquid is heated in vaping devices.