Oregon health officials are investigating what could be Oregon’s first vaping-related death, which comes amid a national surge of lung illnesses tied to vaping.
Investigators for the Oregon Health Authority say the individual had used an e-cigarette or vaping device containing cannabis from a dispensary shortly before their death. The authority says the case was similar in nature to more than 200 recent cases of vaping-related lung illness that have cropped up in at least 25 states.
Ann Thomas, a public health physician with the Oregon Health Authority, said that, since the surge in vaping deaths became a national issue, the state has been on the lookout for cases that meet certain criteria: an individual with an onset of respiratory symptoms, sick enough to be hospitalized, who has been vaping in the last three months.
Thomas said this July case fit the bill, leading the health authority to deem it potentially “Oregon’s first in a national outbreak.”
But Thomas said its possible there are vaping related-illnesses that came before this one.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if, you know, these kind of come to light as people think, ‘Oh I did have that puzzling case of a person who was otherwise healthy and then came in and needed to be on the ventilator,’” she said.
By announcing the first potential vaping-related death in the state, Thomas said the health authority is hoping clinicians are watching for associated symptoms, such as coughing, difficulty breathing and chest pain.
“We’re now doing a lot of work to reach out to clinicians, hospitals and our tribal health partners, and let them know how to report these cases to us,” she said.
Thomas said it’s not news to the authority that e-cigarettes can pose health issues. The OHA recently delivered a report to the state Legislature outlining the health risks, such as high blood pressure, stroke and addiction. The state’s report coincides with national reporting, and warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that vaping and e-cigarettes are far from harmless.
What’s surprising, Thomas said, is how rapidly people who have smoked e-cigarettes recently have become sick.
“It caught people by surprise that, all of a sudden, we’re having a high number of cases of people that suddenly become quite ill,” she said.
OHA is not yet releasing the individual’s official cause of death or their age. Most of those reporting respiratory-related illnesses have been teenagers and young adults.
Several Oregon elected officials, including Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, had already planned a press conference for Wednesday morning to call for congressional action “to address the dangers of vaping to teenagers as well as adults.”