THURSDAY, Oct. 3 2019 (HealthDay News) -- The number of Americans sickened with a severe lung illness tied to vaping continues to climb, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
"Unfortunately, the outbreak of pulmonary injury associated with e-cigarettes or vaping is continuing at a brisk pace -- we've now surpassed 1,000 lung injury cases in this outbreak," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Specifically, the CDC now reports a total of 1,080 cases occurring in 48 states and the Virgin Islands. Included in that number are 18 deaths from 15 states.
"The increase of 275 cases since last week is a combination of new patients becoming ill in the past two weeks and recent reporting of previously identified patients," Schuchat explained during a media briefing Thursday.
The death toll is expected to grow, as well. "We know additional deaths are under investigation," Schuchat said.
Products containing the marijuana chemical THC could be a main driver behind the illnesses. According to Schuchat, "Most patients report a history of using THC-containing products, and most patients are male and young people. About 78% reported using THC-containing products within three months of symptom onset, and 37% reported using only THC-containing products."
Continuing a trend noted in prior weeks, 70% of patients are male, and 80% are under 35, the CDC report found.
The very young are being hit hard -- more than a third of the cases (37%) involve someone under 21.
While THC is a main suspect in the CDC's investigation, a separate study released Wednesday suggested other chemicals might play a role.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic Arizona conducted an examination of 17 cases involving vaping-linked lung injury -- including lung biopsies. All of the patients examined had severe forms of the illness, and two had died.
"Based on what we have seen in our study, we suspect that most cases involve chemical contaminants, toxic byproducts or other noxious agents within vape liquids," said lead researcher Dr. Brandon Larsen. He's a surgical pathologist at the Mayo Clinic Arizona in Scottsdale.
Those findings were published Oct. 2 in The New England Journal of Medicine.
While THC does seem to figure prominently in many cases, Schuchat has stressed that nicotine-containing vaping products without THC cannot be ruled out as a potential cause of harm. Because of that, the CDC recommendation for everyone to stop vaping stands.
What is clear is that the illnesses that are affecting vapers can be sudden and severe. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath and chest pains. Some patients have had so much trouble breathing that they wind up on oxygen, and in extreme cases are placed on a mechanical ventilator.
On the national level, the situation has spurred the Trump administration to call for a ban on flavored e-cigarettes.
And on Tuesday, Los Angeles County banned flavored forms of e-cigarettes -- echoing a move made recently by Michigan and the state of New York. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine called for similar legislation in his state on Tuesday, and last week retail giant Walmart announced that it would pull all e-cigarette products from its shelves.
The American Lung Association has more about vaping and lung health.