CDC, FDA in hot pursuit of source of vaping lung injuries


The national outbreak of vaping-associated lung injuries is ongoing and the number of cases and deaths continues to rise.

Vaping substances used in 3 months preceding EVALI symptoms

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing frequent updates of the wide-ranging and aggressive investigation of the cases and deaths linked to vaping, and although a definitive cause remains unknown, evidence is accumulating to implicate tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing devices. The investigation is being conducted in concert with the Food and Drug Administration, many state and local health departments, and public health and clinical partners.

The acronym EVALI has been developed by CDC to refer to e-cigarette, or vaping products use–associated lung injury. In a report summarizing data up to Oct. 22, CDC reported 1,604 EVALI cases and 34 deaths. These cases have occurred in all U.S. states (except Alaska), the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The CDC also published a report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report on characteristics of those patients who have died from EVALI-based symptoms as of Oct. 15, 2019.

With data available for more than 867 patients with EVALI, about 86% had a history of using e-cigarette or vaping products that contained THC in the previous 90 days; 64% reported using nicotine-containing products; 34% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products, and 11% reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products; 52% reported use of both.

In a telebriefing on Oct. 25, Anne Schuchat, MD, CDC principal deputy director, said, “The data do continue to point towards THC-containing products as the source of the vast majority of individuals’ lung injury. There are continuing cases that do not report that history. But I’d like to stress that we don’t know what the risky material or substance is. THC may be a marker for a way that cartridges were prepared or the way that the devices are producing harm. Whether there are similar activities going on with cartridges that don’t contain THC, for instance, remains to be seen. So, I think we are seeing the THC as a marker for products that are risky.”

EVALI deaths

Among the 29 deaths reported as of Oct. 15, 59% (17) were male; the median age was 45 years (range, 17-75 years), 55 years (range, 17-71 years) among males, and 43 years (range, 27-75 years) among females; the age difference between males and females was not statistically significant. Patients who died tended to be older than patients who survived. Among 19 EVALI patients who died and for whom data on substance use was available, the use of any THC-containing products was reported by patients or proxies for 84% (16), including 63% (12) who exclusively used THC-containing products. Use of any nicotine-containing products was reported for 37% (7), including 16% (3) who exclusively used nicotine-containing products. Use of both THC- and nicotine-containing products was reported in four of those who died.

Investigation update

Mitch Zeller, JD, director, Center for Tobacco Products at the Food and Drug Administration, participated in the telebriefing and provided an update on the ongoing investigation. “State of the art methods are being used to assess the presence of a broad range of chemicals including nicotine, THC, and other cannabinoids, opioids, additives, pesticides, poisons and toxins,” he said. “FDA has received or collected over 900 samples from 25 states to date. Those numbers continue to increase. The samples [were] collected directly from consumers, hospitals, and from state offices include vaping devices and products that contain liquid as well as packaging and some nearly empty containers.” He cautioned that identifying the substance is “but one piece of the puzzle and will not necessarily answer questions about causality.” He also noted that the self-reports of THC and/or nicotine could mean that there is misreported data, because reports in many cases are coming from teens and from jurisdictions in which THC is not legal.


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