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Missouri officials confirm first vaping-related death in state


One person in Missouri has now died from a vaping-related illness, state officials confirmed Thursday. 

The man, who was in his mid-40s, died from a vaping-related lung injury at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. He was first hospitalized on Aug. 22 and eventually transferred to Mercy on Sept. 4 after his respiratory symptoms worsened. 

“This is an unfortunate case of a young man with no prior lung illness who started vaping because of chronic pain issues,” Dr. Michael Plisco, Mercy critical care pulmonologist and medical director of Mercy’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) program, said in a statement. 

The unnamed man originally experienced shortness of breath which “rapidly progressed and deteriorated, developing into what is called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS),” Plisco said. “Once the lungs are injured by vaping, we don’t know how quickly it worsens and if it depends on other factors.” 

His lungs were unable to provide enough gas exchange, leading to heart failure and near cardiac arrest, officials said. He was emergently placed on venoarterial ECMO in an effort to support his heart and rest his lungs.

Since the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) began requiring the state’s doctors to report potential vaping-related pulmonary illnesses last month, it has received 22 reports. Seven have been confirmed with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, nine are still under investigation, and six were dismissed as they did not meet CDC’s standards. 

Dr. Randall Williams, the DHSS director, told The Missouri Times the cases seen in the state track with trends at the national level: The median age for someone with a pulmonary illness related to e-cigarette use is 19, and the majority of cases are males. 

The CDC said Thursday at least 530 people have experienced lung injuries associated with vaping use. Of the national data received on nearly 400 cases, 67 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34 years old and 72 percent are male.

Calling it an “acute crisis,” Williams noted inhalational injuries cause permanent damage but will not spread from person to person. People who use e-cigarettes have reported experiencing coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, weight loss, or an elevated heart rate. 

Vaping-related illnesses and deaths have caused concern nationwide. The Trump administration is working on a ban of certain flavored e-cigarettes as at least seven people have died across the country. 

And Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp took to social media over the weekend to ask Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden about potential legislative fixes at the state level. 

But Williams isn’t certain a ban will solve the issue. 

“The problem is, at this point it appears one common denominator is the devices are tampered with,” Williams said. “People are taking a device and using it in a way it’s not intended to be used or putting something in it that it wasn’t intended to have.” 

“Many of these patients [nationally] are using THC, tampering with the device in some way, or using Vitamin E to thicken the solution that’s heated up,” he said. 

Recent research has shown the amount of teens who use e-cigarettes have doubled in the last two years. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one in four high school seniors and one in five sophomores said they vaped within a 30-day period. 

“We want to look at ways to address our concern about this doubling of vaping among teenagers in the last two years,” Williams said. 

DHSS is encouraging those who want help quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to reach out to a doctor or the Missouri Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-784-8669. Individuals can also text DITCHJUUL to 88709.