Colorado Health Officials Looking For Possible Cases Of Breathing Illnesses Linked To Vaping

August 18, 2019
Dr. Robin Deterding, who’s in charge of pulmonary pediatric medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado, speaks at a press conference Aug. 13, 2019, in favor of Denver's proposed tobacco reforms.Dr. Robin Deterding, who’s in charge of pulmonary pediatric medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado, speaks at a press conference Aug. 13, 2019, in favor of Denver's proposed tobacco reforms.John Daley/CPR News
Dr. Robin Deterding, who’s in charge of pulmonary pediatric medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado, speaks at a press conference Aug. 13, 2019, in favor of Denver's proposed tobacco reforms.

After as many as 50 people in six states have reportedly coming down with breathing illnesses that might be linked to vaping, health officials are looking for similar cases in Colorado. 

Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and vomiting.

Confirmed cases have been reported in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.  Doctors in New York, Indiana and California are also checking possible cases. No deaths have been reported.

Dr. Robin Deterding, who’s in charge of pulmonary pediatric medicine at Children's Hospital Colorado, says doctors here are looking at records and asking sick patients about possible use of vaping devices.  "As a state with some of the highest vaping rates and lower oxygen here (due to the high altitude), unless it's something that's spiked in the Midwest we expect that we will be seeing these cases here too," she said.

She called the emergence of the pneumonia-like cases “alarming” and the numbers being reported in several states “suspicious.”  Deterding said “that gets our attention because these kids are sick enough they could have died, so we have to understand this and we'll actively be looking for it."

She said she’d been reaching out to physicians in other states to compare notes.  “It’s possible we’ve seen a few (cases), we don’t know yet, but we’re pursuing that.”

A lung specialist who saw all four of Minnesota's reported cases says each had vaped different products.

Colorado led the nation in a 2018 survey of more than three dozen states for vaping by teens.

Though electronic cigarettes have been marketed by industry as less dangerous than the conventional variety, health officials have been increasingly raising alarms, especially regarding youth use.  

Last year U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned about the dangers of electronic cigarette use among U.S. teenagers, calling it an epidemic and issuing an advisory.

Concerns have ranged from potential impact on young brains to increasing the chances kids will move on to smoking regular cigarettes. The Surgeon General’s website warns that besides highly addictive nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients, like ultrafine particles that can be breathed deep into the lungs, diacetyl, a chemical in flavorings linked to serious lung disease, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, like nickel, tin and lead.

Scientists continue to study the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes. But to date, more short-term health impacts hadn’t been widely reported. Deterding said that may be changing.  “I’m not surprised by this because of the nature of some chemicals that are in there (in vaping liquids),” she said.

Some electronic cigarette devices and pods contain e-liquids that can be modified. Deterding said health officials in the Midwest are looking into what the sick patients might have consumed.  “So I think they’re trying to figure out did things get spiked, did they get reused, did they do mixing and matching? I don’t think we know,” she said.