News from the FDA/CDC

CDC identifies probable culprit in vaping lung injuries


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced a possible breakthrough in the hunt for the source of a nationwide outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use–associated lung injuries (EVALI): vitamin E acetate found in lung fluid of victims.


In a telebriefing on Friday, Anne Schuchat, MD, the CDC’s principal deputy director, provided an update on recent lab findings and on case and death numbers reported so far to the CDC. The findings and more case information were published in the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report.

At the telebriefing, Dr. Schuchat stated that CDC has received 29 samples of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid from EVALI patients from 10 states and that vitamin E acetate was identified in all samples. Vitamin E acetate has already been found in some vaping devices and the discovery of the chemical in the lungs of patients increases the likelihood that this toxin is at least one source of EVALI. These findings are the first to link substances found in vaping products with biological samples from patients hospitalized with EVALI.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was found in 23 of 28 samples tested and nicotine was found in 16 of 26 samples tested. Other diluents and additives of concern (such as plant oils, medium chain triglyceride oil, petroleum distillates, and diluent terpenes) were not detected in BAL fluid specimens from EVALI patients.

BAL fluid specimens were collected from hospitalized EVALI patients in the course of their treatment, although not for the specific purpose of the CDC investigation, and sent to the CDC by public health laboratories and health departments in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin for analysis.

Dr. Schuchat stated that, as of Nov. 5, there have been 2,051 cases of EVALI reported to the CDC and 39 EVALI patients have died, with other deaths still under investigation as possibly related to EVALI. She said that the trend in new EVALI cases reported appears to be decreasing, but some states continue to see new cases. She cautioned that the lab findings of vitamin E acetate in BAL fluid do not rule out other possible compounds or ingredients that may contribute to EVALI and said the investigation will continue.

E-cigarette user survey

During the telebriefing, Jennifer Layden, MD, PhD, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), gave an update on her department’s efforts to investigate vaping behaviors that might have led to EVALI in e-cigarette users and also to obtain more information on sources of vaping devices that could be linked to EVALI. The data were also reported in a MMWR.

The IDPH conducted an online public survey during September 2019 to October 2019 targeting e-cigarette, or vaping, product users in Illinois. The survey was promoted via social media on the IDPH website, local health departments, and other outlets. The survey yielded 4,631 respondents who answered questions about the frequency of vaping, sources of supply, and types of substances used. The investigators were then able to compare vaping-use habits and behaviors with similar information gleaned from EVALI patients.

Among survey respondents, 94% reported using any nicotine-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products in the past 3 months; 21% used any THC-containing products; and 11% used both THC-containing products and nicotine-containing products. THC-containing product use was highest among survey respondents aged 18-24 years (36%) and decreased with increasing age. Compared with these survey respondents, EVALI patients were more likely to report exclusive use of THC-containing products (adjusted odds ratio, 2.0; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-3.6), frequent use (more than five times per day) of these products (aOR, 3.1; 95% CI, 1.6-6.0), and obtaining these products from informal sources, such as from a dealer, off the street, or from a friend (aOR, 9.2; 95% CI, 2.2-39.4). In addition, “the odds of using Dank Vapes, a class of largely counterfeit THC-containing products, was also higher among EVALI patients” (aOR, 8.5; 95% CI, 3.8-19.0), according to the MMWR.


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