The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is reporting a number of hospitalizations of teenagers displaying severe lung disease, with suspicions of links to recent e-cigarette use. The FDA has also recently revealed it has accumulated 127 reports of seizures claimed to be related to e-cigarette use, as concern grows over the potential negative health effects of heavy vaping.
Late in July the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin revealed a recent cluster of eight hospitalizations of teenagers with lung damage over the prior month. The exact cause of this unusual spike in hospitalizations was unclear but the hospital hypothesized heavy e-cigarette use as the primary factor connecting all the young patients.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services quickly followed up with a statement saying several more cases of teenagers with severe lung disease had been reported, 11 confirmed and seven more suspected. The symptoms varied in severity, from simple shortness of breath and fatigue, to more acute cases of chest pain, with some patients needing immediate breathing assistance.
"We are currently interviewing patients, all of whom reported recent vaping," said Andrea Palm, in a statement from the Wisconsin DHS. "Our disease investigators continue to gather information about the names and types of vape products that were used in hopes of determining a common link. We strongly urge people to avoid vaping products and e-cigarettes. Anyone – especially young people who have recently vaped – experiencing unexplained breathing problems should see a doctor."
Back in April the FDA offered an update on its ongoing investigation into health concerns surrounding e-cigarette use. A primary focus of the investigation was reports of seizures associated with vaping. Seizures are a known side effect of nicotine toxicity so it wasn't an unreasonable connection to investigate. At the time the FDA had collected 35 reports of seizures following the use of e-cigarettes, but as Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the FDA noted at the time, these reported cases were most likely just a small percentage of the total potential cases that could have occurred.
"While 35 cases may not seem like much compared to the total number of people using e-cigarettes, we are nonetheless concerned by these reported cases," Gottlieb noted in a statement in April. "We also recognize that not all of the cases may be reported. We believe these 35 cases warrant scientific investigation into whether there is in fact a connection."
A recently published update from the FDA on this investigation has now revealed a large number of new reports have been submitted. In total, the FDA has received 127 reports of seizures or neurological symptoms thought to be associated with e-cigarette use.
It is important to note that these reports are of cases that have occurred between 2010 and 2019, so they do not indicate a specific rise in frequency over recent months, but instead are a collection of cases that have mostly been unreported or undocumented since the rise of e-cigarette use over the past decade.
Ned Sharpless, the current acting FDA commissioner, has again reiterated the call for any additional reports from health care professionals or the general public, suggesting the more information that can be obtained, the more effective the ongoing investigation can be.
"The FDA is continuing its scientific investigation to determine if there's a direct relationship between the use of e-cigarettes and a risk of seizure or other neurological symptoms," says Sharpless. "Although we still don't have enough information to determine if e-cigarettes are causing these reported incidents, we believe it's critical to keep the public updated on the information we've received based on the agency's initial request for reports earlier this year."
It is obviously way too soon to conclude any definitive connection between e-cigarette use and these health incidents, however, the growing concern over teen vaping is the current focus of a US Senate investigation, and the foundation of a growing wave of e-cigarette prohibition that is sweeping the globe.
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