One dead In Illinois from vaping lung damage, 16 cases in Wisconsin

    The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is currently aware of 16 cases of people being hospitalized with lung damage, possibly related to vaping, with another 15 cases still under investigation. In Illinois, the first death possibly associated with vaping was reported last week.

    The number of possible vaping-related cases of lung damage in Illinois also doubled over the last week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now tracking nearly 200 “potential cases” scattered across 22 states.

    The DHS website states that, “while we first saw cases among teens and young adults, we now have cases in older age groups.” Such cases have been reported in Dodge, Door, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Portage, Racine, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, and Winnebago Counties. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, persistent coughs, and weight loss.

    Though many suspect vaporized cannabis extracts as the cause, the reason for the rash of respiratory illness is still unclear.

    “The products consumed could include a number of substances, including nicotine, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), synthetic cannabinoids, or a combination of these,” according to a DHS page providing updates every Thursday morning. “Patients reported vaping in the weeks and months prior to hospitalization, but we do not know the names and types of products they used at this time.”

    Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), called the hospitalizations “alarming” in a press release on the death. “We must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous.” Nevertheless, the IDPH press release says, “it is not clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different diseases with similar symptoms.” Additionally, the CDC notes that “many,” though not all, of the patients reported having used products they believed contained THC.

    Even in Colorado, a state which has legalized and now regulates cannabis use, there have been reported cases of lung damage. Chief medical officer with the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment, told The Denver Post, that e-cigarette devices aren’t heavily regulated in general. Shadowing legitimate nicotine and THC vape products are black market counterfeits circulating nationwide. It all creates an environment full of trap doors which is difficult to navigate for people who vape. “No specific product has been identified in all cases,”  IDPH press release states, “nor has any product been conclusively linked to the illnesses.”

    “We have some hypotheses that there might be some sort of contamination in the products themselves,” says Dr. Ghosh. Shortly after her statements, two more Coloradans were hospitalized with so-called “mystery illnesses.” Symptoms for the patients, all from Colorado’s urbanized Front Range mountainous region, include low oxygen levels and fever.

    Anyone experiencing these symptoms, in any level of severity is encouraged to seek medical attention. Updates on the situation as it plays out in Wisconsin can be found on this Department of Health website.

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.

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