MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising people to stop vaping.
Officials say the country is currently experiencing a multi-state outbreak of severe lung disease. As of Friday, there have been more than 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with using e-cigarettes reported to the CDC across 33 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including here in South Carolina.
Grand Strand Medical Center confirmed on Tuesday that a patient was treated there for a lung illness associated with vaping.
As of Tuesday, the number of vaping-related deaths is up to six.
Grand Strand doctors, however, believe those numbers are dramatically under-reported. Dr. Thaddeus Golden, a pulmonologist at Grand Strand Medical Center, said he’s seen cases of respiratory illness in Myrtle Beach recently that could possibly be linked to vaping. He notes the problem is there’s just not enough research or regulations.
Health officials said the number of cases has been on the rise since the spring.
Officials said patients with this mysterious respiratory illness typically have flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath for several days. Patients also complained of chest pain, fever, coughing and some gastrointestinal symptoms.
According to officials, no single vaping device, liquid or ingredient has been tied to the illnesses. Government representatives said many patents, but not all, reported recent use of THC, some saying they used both THC and nicotine.
Investigators are now looking into whether the illnesses are related to specific devices, ingredients, potential contaminants or a combination of factors.
Golden says right now, it’s still difficult to fully determine if these lung-related illnesses are in fact related to vaping.
“Even the cases that we’ve seen here, we’ve seen a couple in the last couple of months where the patients were active vapors and ended up with an inflammatory condition in the lungs. In each one of those cases, you could find other potential risk factors - mold in the home and such - so it’s very hard to truly link cause and effect. But when you start to see this over and over like we seem to be nationally, there sure seems to be fire where there’s smoke,” said Golden.
There’s no secret vaping has become an increasingly popular trend among the younger generation. That’s why Golden stresses the importance of education and awareness to parents and teens.
“I would strongly recommend parents to talk to their children, ask them to be honest about whether or not they’ve tried it. Statistics show that about 40 percent of high school students have vaped - and that’s a big number - and the bigger concern is what does that mean for the future? In the meantime, if you do vape, I think look for alternatives, and certainly if you have symptoms, so if you do find you are more short of breath, have a cough, have any pneumonia-like symptoms, fever, chills, you really should be seen and get checked out and probably find an alternative,” said Golden.
Some alternative options Golden recommends are nicotine gum and patches.
Golden said his clinic has seen vaping patients struggling to breathe and his office is now on high alert for the disease. They now routinely ask patients if they vape.
Officials with the CDC said they’re looking at several ingredients, including Vitamin E acetate, but Golden added that no single factor has been seen in every case.
“The interesting thing is that we just don’t know enough about all the compounds that are in vaping liquids, but these aren’t well regulated and there’s flavors in there - there’s colors in there. Some of these are coming from domestic manufacturers, some of these are coming from overseas. What we have seen is we have seen some people that get a hypersensitivity reaction to inhaling these chemicals. So just the same as if you were to inhale any chemical, your lungs that are very, very delicate can have, for a lack of a better term, an allergic reaction to them,” Golden said.
Doctors also said the health risks of vaping could be better addressed if the Food and Drug Administration began regulating these products. In the meantime, health experts are urging people to step away from all vaping products until the investigation establishes exactly what’s at the root of the illnesses.
Earlier this year, a bill in the state was passed by the general assembly and is now in effect. It bans vaping on public school property and restricts online purchases of vaping devices to minors.