Weeks after being told by Canada’s chief public-health officer to be on the lookout for cases of vaping-related lung illness, several provinces are still working to implement a formal reporting system.
Theresa Tam said in an interview on Friday that she informed her provincial counterparts on Aug. 19 of the growing outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses in the United States. Dr. Tam asked provinces to make front-line health-care workers aware of the issue and to ensure possible cases are reported to health authorities.
B.C., Quebec and Manitoba are still working on making vaping-related lung illness a notifiable condition, meaning that hospitals must report suspected cases to local or provincial health authorities. Health officials say instituting this formal process is critical to ensuring Canadian authorities are able to track the potential scope of the problem.
On Friday, Saskatchewan’s Health Minister said the province’s intensive-care units have been told that they must report any cases of severe respiratory disease that may be linked to vaping products to local medical authorities. Ontario announced this week that it has made vaping-related lung illness a notifiable condition.
A spokeswoman with New Brunswick’s department of health said the province’s chief medical officer of health issued a memo to all physicians to report suspected cases to regional authorities. A spokeswoman for Nova Scotia’s health department said officials have asked clinicians to notify them of any possible cases.
In Alberta, vaping-related lung illness has been a notifiable condition since Sept. 5.
Officials from other provinces did not respond on Friday
So far, four possible cases of vaping-related lung illness have been reported in Canada. Ontario is investigating three cases: two possible and one probable. One case involves a teen in the London, Ont., area who had to be placed on life support in recent weeks after falling ill. Officials at the Middlesex-London Health Unit said the teen vaped regularly and that it appears the illness is linked to the wider outbreak of vaping-related lung illness. Ontario’s Ministry of Health did not release any details of the other two cases.
Toronto Public Health said it had been told of several possible cases, but did not provide any further information. A spokeswoman directed questions to the province’s chief medical officer of health.
B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said this week that a possible case of vaping-related illness has been reported in the province, but it’s unclear if it is linked to the wider outbreak.
Dr. Henry said it’s likely the number of possible cases will go up once health professionals start looking for the illness more closely. She said possible cases of the vaping-related illness could easily be mistaken for a viral infection, as many symptoms are similar.
Health officials in Canada are being cautious about publicly reporting possible vaping-related illnesses and are releasing few details about the handful of cases under investigation. For instance, officials have not disclosed whether the teenager in London, Ont., who was placed on life support, had been vaping tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Dr. Tam said the focus is on trying to figure out the cause.
“It’s actually not very helpful to have all of this noise,” she said.
In the United States, where hundreds of cases have been reported, officials have released extensive information about the number of cases, including the ages and genders of those who have been sickened.
There have been eight deaths and 530 illnesses linked to vaping products in the U.S. Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not know what is causing the illness, but believe that it may be linked to a chemical ingredient in the vaping products. Most, but not all, of those sickened had been vaping products containing THC.