The Oregon Health Authority is investigating a death related to e-cigarette usage. The death was caused by a severe respiratory illness, and it's the first death in the state that's being investigated for possibly being caused by a vaping device.
The person died in July. Investigators from OHA's Public Health Division said in a press release that prior to the death, the person was smoking a cannabis product through the vaping device.
No more information about the deceased person is available at this time, the OHA tells WW.
Ann Thomas, M.D., public health physician for the OHA, tells WW the deceased person's symptoms reflected similar symptoms to nearly 200 other patients nationwide who were hospitalized—tracked by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—all of who had recently used a vaping device.
"Shortness of breath, cough and chest pain are the main respiratory symptoms," says Thomas. "And some people have also reported that those were preceded by a period of having fatigue, nausea and diarrhea."
She says because states are launching independent investigations of deaths possibly linked to vaping devices, the CDC has not been able to compile centralized data regarding the ongoing investigations.
"It's only been in the last week or two that the CDC has really started to coordinate a national effort," Thomas tells WW. "So once states like Oregon are submitting their data and compiling it, we'll have a more precise idea."
Thomas says the OHA worked with the CDC to come up with a "definition of people that are presenting with these severe respiratory illness" that constitutes an investigation. If the patient meets the criteria, Thomas says it would be considered a case.
Thomas says the frustrating part of this new epidemic is that it's still unknown what exactly contributes to the cases of lung illness reported around the country.
"The big puzzle at this point is, 'What exactly is causing it?' When I first read about it, I thought it must be a particular device that's malfunctioning or a particular brand or product that's contaminated," says Thomas. "So far, we haven't been able to figure out what that is."
But she says all health professionals agree that vaping is dangerous. Vaping devices contain nicotine, which is addictive and increases heart rate and blood pressure. Thomas says that although vaping devices don't have as many toxic compounds as traditional cigarettes, "there are still toxins in it and there are known carcinogens that have been found, along with different metals like nickel and lead."
"These are things you should not be inhaling," says Thomas.