The first death of a Virginia resident linked with e-cigarette use, or vaping, has been confirmed by the Virginia Department of Health amid an outbreak of vaping-related lung illness throughout the country.
A news release from the Heath Department on Tuesday said the person lived in Southwest Virginia but gave no other details. Cone Health in Greensboro, N.C., reported the death last Thursday.
“I am deeply saddened to announce the first death of a Virginia resident related to this outbreak. Our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time,” Virginia’s health commissioner, Dr. M. Norman Oliver, said in the news release.
As of Monday, there have been 31 lung injury cases in Virginia, according to the Health Department. As of Sept. 24, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 805 similar cases in 46 states and one U.S. territory, along with 12 deaths (other than the Virginia resident’s) confirmed in 10 states.
E-cigarette use, which many companies promote as a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes and other tobacco products, has come under growing scrutiny after an Illinois resident with severe respiratory illness died in August.
The majority of the vaping-related health cases have involved adolescents and young adults who reported symptoms of gradual onset of cough; shortness of breath and fatigue; and mild to moderate gastrointestinal illness, including vomiting and diarrhea.
The Virginia Department of Health said in August that the cases did not improve with antibiotics, but that some patients did react positively to steroid therapies.
The CDC says its latest findings suggest that THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, could have a role in the outbreak. Out of the 514 patients for whom the CDC has data on what was vaped in the 30 days before the onset of symptoms, 77% reported that they had vaped a THC-containing product in that time period.
The American Vaping Association, an advocacy group, has argued that “tainted, black-market THC products” are to blame and is calling on federal officials to clear nicotine products of suspicion.
The Virginia Department of Health said Tuesday that the cause of the outbreak remains unknown. The Health Department and the CDC are discouraging e-cigarette use as the outbreak is investigated.
More information about vaping and lung illness can be found at www.vdh.virginia.gov/vaping.