Vitamin E acetate is one possible culprit in the mysterious vaping-associated lung disease that has killed three patients, sickened 450, and baffled clinicians and investigators all summer.
Another death may be linked to the disorder, officials said during a joint press briefing held by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. In all, 450 potential cases have been reported and e-cigarette use confirmed in 215. Cases have occurred in 33 states and one territory. A total of 84% of the patients reported having used tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products in e-cigarette devices.
No single device or substance was common to all the cases, leading officials to issue a blanket warning against e-cigarettes, especially those containing THC.
“We believe a chemical exposure is likely related, but more information is needed to determine what substances. Some labs have identified vitamin E acetate in some samples,” said Dana Meaney-Delman, MD, MPH, incident manager, CDC 2019 Lung Injury Response. “Continued investigation is needed to identify the risk associated with a specific product or substance.”
Besides vitamin E acetate, federal labs are looking at other cannabinoids, cutting agents, diluting agents, pesticides, opioids, and toxins.
Officials also issued a general warning about the products. Youths, young people, and pregnant women should never use e-cigarettes, they cautioned, and no one should buy them from a noncertified source, a street vendor, or a social contact. Even cartridges originally obtained from a certified source should never have been altered in any way.
Dr. Layden and colleagues reported that bilateral lung infiltrates was characterized in 98% of the 53 patients hospitalized with the recently reported e-cigarette–induced lung injury. Nonspecific constitutional symptoms, including fever, chills, weight loss, and fatigue, were present in all of the patients.
Patients may show some symptoms days or even weeks before acute respiratory failure develops, and many had sought medical help before that. All presented with bilateral lung infiltrates, part of an evolving case definition. Many complained of nonspecific constitutional symptoms, including fever, chills, gastrointestinal symptoms, and weight loss. Of the patients who underwent bronchoscopy, many were diagnosed as having lipoid pneumonia, a rare condition characterized by lipid-laden macrophages.
“We don’t know the significance of the lipid-containing macrophages, and we don’t know if the lipids are endogenous or exogenous,” Dr. Meaney-Delman said.
The incidence of such cases appears to be rising rapidly, Dr. Layden noted. An epidemiologic review of cases in Illinois found that the mean monthly rate of visits related to severe respiratory illness in June-August was twice that observed during the same months last year.