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1 case of vaping illness found in Whiteside County

One of Illinois’ 88 verified cases of vaping-related illness is a Whiteside County resident, the Illinois Department of Public Health confirmed this morning.

The patient, a middle-aged man, was diagnosed recently, said Dani Haeffner, the infection control nurse at the Whiteside County Health Department.

Haeffner did not know whether he still is hospitalized.

In general, the ages of the 88 affected range from 13 to 46, with a median age of 22, IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.

In addition, 17 more cases are under investigation statewide to see if they meet the case definition of a vaping illness, which is marked mainly by shortness of breath and can result in severe lung damage, and death, Arnold said.

Illinois’ victims all have vaped within the past 3 months, and all but one have been hospitalized at some point, she said. One person in Oregon has died.

As of Thursday, 13 people have died nationwide.

Most of the Illinois cases involve vaping products that contain THC, the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana. Although some have vaped both tobacco and THC products, and some only tobacco, Arnold said.

That’s in keeping with the findings of a new study recently published by the Centers for Disease Control that found two-thirds who got sick in Illinois and Wisconsin said they vaped prefilled THC cartridges from one brand.

No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified.

How many cases might actually exist are not yet known, because the vials, or “carts,” that contain the THC are illegal until Jan.1, and so victims may be afraid to come forward, she said.

THC users, however, will not be reported to police.

“We’re not looking to use this for law enforcement. Our goal is to try to identify what is causing all these illness,” Arnold said.

All health care providers who suspect a vaping case and rule out any other type of respiratory illness are urged to report it to the IDPH, which will look at the patient’s vaping and health history, and CT scans of the lungs, among other things.

The Whiteside County case was detected after the local health department sent what-to-look-for information and forms to area health care providers, one of whom sent back a form notifying staff of a possible case.

In addition to breathing difficulties, vapers may develop a cough, fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue.

Symptoms can come on gradually and develop over weeks, which may explain why those afflicted don’t often don’t seek treatment until the illness has gotten severe, Haeffner said.

Anyone who develops symptoms should get to a doctor immediately, Arnold said, and of course, health officials are advising people not to use any vaping product until the cause is better understood.

Over the summer, health officials in a few states began noticing reports of people developing severe breathing illnesses, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. The only common factor in the illnesses was that the patients had all recently vaped.

The CDC said 805 confirmed and probable cases have been reported, up 52% from the 530 reported a week ago. At this point, illnesses have occurred in almost every state.

As a national investigation has started and broadened, reports have increased dramatically.

In addition to the number of cases, CDC officials are keeping track of the brands of products being used and the types of vaping devices, in an attempt to determine the source of the illnesses.

The confirmed deaths are two in California, two in Kansas, two in Oregon and one each in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Missouri. The Mississippi death was announced by officials in that state Thursday and the second Oregon death was revealed by authorities later in the day.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

THE SYMPTOMS

While the main symptoms of vaping illness is shortness of breath and coughing, vapers also can experience fever and chills, nausea, diarrhea and weight loss and fatigue.

Symptoms can come on gradually and develop over weeks, which may explain why those afflicted don't often don't seek treatment until the illness has gotten severe.

They also are nearly identical to those of the flu, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses associated with cold weather, which could complicate diagnosis.

Vapers who develop difficulty breathing, or any combination of the symptoms, should go to a health care provider immediately.

Health officials also are advising people to stop vaping until the cause of the illness, which can be fatal, is better understood.

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