A serious illness has stricken over 150 people, mostly young adults and adolescents, across more than 14 states—and health officials don’t know yet what’s making them sick. But vaping could have something to do with it.
The Center for Disease Control announced Saturday that it would join state departments of health in investigating recent reports of lung disease, primarily in youths. “While some cases in each of the states are similar and appear to be linked to e-cigarette product use, more information is needed to determine what is causing the illnesses,” the CDC reports.
The ailment has landed some young people in intensive care and on ventilators, and it may be linked to irreversible lung damage. There’s no evidence yet that anything contagious is involved, but the 94 possible cases that have cropped up in 14 states since June have enough in common to cause concern: In a message to healthcare providers, the CDC noted that all patients who have the illness reported vaping in the weeks and months before they got sick. (Some of the patients reported using products derived from marijuana, but the CDC says too many of them weren’t for it to be the connecting factor.)
Experts aren’t shocked to hear that e-cigarettes are being linked to illness. “This is the headline we’ve been trying to prevent,” says Joseph Allen, an environmental health scientist at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health. Allen is a co-author of a study published earlier this year that found fungi and bacteria lurking in some popular brands of e-cigarette liquid, but he says contaminants are far from the only reason public health experts are worried about vaping.