AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Department of State Health Services is now asking local health care professionals to report possible illnesses related to vaping.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as of September 6, more than 450 cases of lung illnesses associated with the use of e-cigarette products have been reported to the agency. Texas is one of 33 states experiencing the outbreak.
In Texas, DSHS said it has confirmed 17 cases so far, and 12 more are under investigation.
State health officials told KXAN the patients range in age from 16 to 39. Three quarters are men, and the majority are teens.
According to CDC, symptoms of these illnesses could include:
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Fatigue, fever, or weight loss
“I think this is a public health crisis,” said Dr. Steve Ramirez, who’s a family medicine physician at Baylor Scott and White Clinic. “We don’t understand the long-term health effects of it.”
He said he’s especially concerned about young people who use e-cigarettes because there are a lot of unknowns about what’s causing the respiratory illnesses, but ads about vaping seem to be targeting teens and young adults.
“There are 7,000 flavors right now, and we don’t know what’s in all these flavors,” Ramirez explained. “We know nicotine is very addictive. We know that the vaping material has heavy metals. It has arsenic, lead, mercury, things like that, other things that are not healthy.”
Ramirez said another problem with teens vaping is sometimes their parents don’t even know.
“You could come home smelling like cigarettes when you’re smoking, but you really don’t come home smelling like anything when you’re vaping,” he said. “You don’t want it to be your child. You don’t want to be the parent that didn’t know their kids were vaping, and the first time they find out is when they have a lung injury in an emergency room.”
Chris Van Deusen with the Texas Department of State Health Services said he expects the number of vaping-related illnesses to continue to rise.
“As we get the word out about this, one thing we’re seeing is it’s kind of a light bulb going off moment. ‘Oh, I had a case similar to this,'” he explained. “It may be that doctors have seen over the last several months, maybe even longer, cases where someone had unexplained respiratory symptoms. They wouldn’t have necessarily connected to vaping, but now, we’ve seen this pattern emerge.”
He said DSHS is sharing information with the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and other states.
“The more information we get, the more likely we’re going to be able to connect those dots,” he said.
But until then, Van Deusen advised, “We don’t know what’s going on, and until we can get a better handle on it, vaping is something that really people need to think twice about.”