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Illinois resident dies from a mysterious vaping-related illness, health officials say

Kate Thayer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- One of the Illinois residents hospitalized for an unknown respiratory illness after vaping has died, public health officials said Friday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health would not disclose further details about the individual or circumstances surrounding the death.

In recent weeks, 22 people, ages 17 to 38, have been hospitalized across the state for respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath and fatigue, and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea, after vaping, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The department is also investigating 12 more individuals with these symptoms. And dozens more in other states have also been hospitalized this summer, causing federal and state public health officials to warn of the dangers of vaping, or use of e-cigarettes -- a practice on the rise among adolescents.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a news release in which it said 149 people nationwide had contracted a severe respiratory illness after vaping, but that there hadn't been any deaths reported as of then. That could make this the first death in the United States linked to the smoking alternative that has become popular with teens and young adults.

"The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous," IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement released Friday, adding that the department has called in a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assist in its investigation.

The department is also working with local health departments, as well as officials in other states and the Food and Drug Administration to look into which types of e-cigarettes were used by those affected.

In many of the cases, including in Illinois, patients said they used THC products, but did not identify a specific product, according to the CDC.

Public health officials say these mystery illnesses appear linked throughout the state and country, but still haven't identified one common cause, or one specific product responsible. Cases in Illinois were reported in Chicago, as well as in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, and downstate in Champaign, Madison, Peoria and St. Clair counties.

Those experiencing chest pain or difficulty breathing after using e-cigarettes or vaping in the weeks or months prior to having the symptoms should seek medical attention, officials warned. And health care providers with patients experiencing an unexpected, serious respiratory illness should ask about a history of vaping. More information is available on the state public health department website.


Health and school officials have long warned parents and teens about the dangers of vaping -- a practice that uses a device that heats liquid usually containing nicotine or THC to produce a vapor the user inhales.

Medical and addiction experts say the products are easier for teens to hide, and in turn, easier to inhale more nicotine than they might smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. And a recent study published this week showed even vapors that don't contain nicotine or THC can do damage by reducing blood flow after just one puff.

Juul Labs, a company that produces e-cigarettes, has also come under fire for allegations of trying to lure teen users with fruity flavors and other marketing tactics. A 20-year-old Cook County woman, Anastasia Quercia, filed suit Thursday in federal court against Juul, Philip Morris USA and parent company Altria Group, accusing the companies of marketing to young people. The lawsuit came days after a Cook County teen filed a lawsuit making similar allegations, but that suit was voluntarily dismissed.

The Lake County state's attorney's office sued Juul earlier this month, accusing the company of targeting teens with deceptive marketing practices. The company also faces lawsuits in other states.

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