MDHHS investigates vaping-associated illnesses in Lower Peninsula

So far, the Michigan investigation has not identified a specific brand of device or e-liquid that is causing respiratory illnesses in users. The MDHHS urges e-cigarette users to immediately seek medical attention if they develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever and/or nausea and vomiting. (Pioneer photo/Alicia Jaimes)

This is part one in a two-part series regarding vaping-associated issues in Michigan. Part two, covering vaping issues with teens, will be published in the Aug. 5 edition of the Pioneer.

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — While consumers often use e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, the first vaping-related death in the U.S. is leaving health officials wondering if e-cigarettes are doing more harm than good.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is currently investigating reports of e-cigarette/vaping-associated respiratory illnesses, with six cases diagnosed in the past 60 days.

“The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming, and we want Michiganders to be aware using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,” Sarah Lyon-Callo, MDHHS state epidemiologist, stated in a press release.

Since the first death related to the outbreak of severe lung disease in those who use e-cigarettes or “vaping” devices occurred in Illinois in August, more than 203 possible cases of severe respiratory illnesses have been reported in 23 states, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

MDHHS and Ten16 Mecosta/Osceola Prevention Coordinator Shay Tullar agree the vape juice consumers are inhaling can contain harmful chemicals which can result in damage to a user’s lungs, heart or other body systems. Tullar said the “water vapor” users think they are inhaling is closer to inhaling aerosol.

Shay Tullar

“Many e-cig products contain nicotine, sometimes in highly concentrated doses, and are highly addictive,” Tullar said. “These products contain chemicals that are known to be harmful to our bodies. They contain artificial flavors, such as diacetyl, which are known to cause permanent lung disease.”

Tullar refers to bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome, or “popcorn lung,” which is a rapidly progressive disease that usually leads to respiratory failure and death within one to two years after diagnosis. Tullar said this can cause coughing, shortness of breath and irritated and inflamed lungs as irreversible scar pockets are created. She said the only solution to BOS currently is a lung transplant.

“Vaping is largely an unregulated industry,” Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City emergency department medical director Dr. Adam Kelly said. “There have been fewer restrictions on who can purchase e-cigarettes. There is no regulation of the actual product being sold. These chemicals can contain harmful toxic metals and cancer causing agents.”

Though Kelly hasn’t personally encountered one of these cases at Spectrum, he said their emergency department staff is aware of the cases in Michigan, and Spectrum is prepared to work with the health department, should any cases enter their hospitals.

The CDC and other public health agencies also are closely monitoring this unknown condition to try to find a potential source of infection or toxicity.

Dr. Adam Kelly

On Friday, Aug. 30, CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield and Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless released a statement on federal and state collaboration to investigate respiratory illnesses reported after use of e-cigarette products.

The press release stated anyone who uses e-cigarette products should not buy products off the street, such as e-cigarette products with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or other cannabinoids.

“This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products,” Redfield said. “Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms, including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids and solvents. The CDC has been warning about the identified and potential dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping since these devices first appeared. E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

So far, the Michigan investigation has not identified a specific brand of device or e-liquid that is causing these illnesses. Similar to reports across the nation, there does not appear to be an infectious cause of the illnesses.

The MDHHS is working closely with state and federal partners during this national outbreak investigation.

Physicians caring for patients with pulmonary illnesses who have a history of e-cigarette and/or vaping use should immediately report these cases to their local health department.

“E-cigarette ‘smoke’ is not harmless water vapor. It contains harmful substances including tiny particles that go deep into the lungs, chemicals that cause destructive lung disease and cancer, and heavy metals such as tin, nickel and lead,” Kelly said.

The MDHHS urges e-cigarette and/or vaping users to immediately seek medical attention if they develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever and/or nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms may occur long after use of a device.

This is part one in a two-part series regarding vaping-associated issues in Michigan.

According to Ten16 Mecosta/Osceola Prevention Coordinator Shay Tullar, many e-cigarette products contain nicotine, sometimes in highly concentrated doses, and can be highly addictive. (Pioneer photo/Alicia Jaimes)

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