The most recent tally of breathing illnesses linked to vaping is not as daunting as a week ago, but that’s mostly due to a difference in how they’re counted, not to a new breakthrough.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday listed the latest number of lung disease cases at 380 nationwide, down from 450 last Friday. The total of deaths remained at six.
The CDC said the larger figure, which drew widespread attention and prompted President Donald Trump to call for a crackdown on flavored e-cigarettes, represented the amount of reported cases under investigation. The downgraded total accounts for confirmed and probable cases.
What the experts say: Vaping lung illness: What we know about the recent spate of cases and deaths
The outbreak, with reported instances in 36 states and one U.S. territory, is still serious enough that the CDC recommends for the public to abstain from using vaping products, and for those with symptoms to see a doctor.
The observed symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and abdominal pain, and they’ve typically developed over a period of days or weeks.
The center said the outbreak does not seem to be caused by an infection, and the leading suspect is chemical exposure.
Although no single substance or product has been pinpointed for the illnesses, most patients have said they used e-cigarettes with THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Many also said they were vaping nicotine, with or without THC.
Trump held a policy discussion on vaping Wednesday and, afterward, said he will seek to ban the sale of non-tobacco-flavored products in an effort to get young people to give up e-cigarettes.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the Food and Drug Administration will soon issue guidance on how to take flavored vaping products off the market, a process that could take months.
Federal intervention: Trump moves to ban flavored vaping products to discourage young people from e-cigarettes
The illnesses are seen as a new phenomenon, and it’s taken weeks for CDC officials to come up with a case definition and for states to start following it. Thursday’s numbers were the first based on the new case definition, which counts only breathing illnesses with abnormal chest x-rays, a recent history of vaping, and lab work done to rule out infectious diseases or other possible causes.
“These cases look very much like overwhelming infection, like viral or bacterial pneumonia,” but lab tests fail to find germs in lung fluids and blood, said Dr. Zack Moore, chief epidemiologist for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY; The Associated Press