Tests of lung samples taken from 29 patients with vaping-related lung injuries suggest all contained vitamin E acetate, a discovery officials described as a “breakthrough” in the investigation of the outbreak that topped 2,000 U.S. cases this week.
The discovery of vitamin E acetate in lung samples offers the first direct evidence of a link with the substance and vaping-related lung injuries. The substance has also been identified in tests by U.S. and state officials of product samples collected from patients with the vaping injury.
Canadian health officials say they are closely monitoring an apparent U.S. breakthrough into the cause of a mysterious vaping illness.
In a telephone briefing on Friday, Anne Schuchet, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called vitamin E acetate “a very strong culprit of concern” and referred to the discovery as “a breakthrough” in the investigation.
She cautioned that more work is needed to definitively declare it a cause, and said studies may identify other potential causes of the injuries as well.
Vitamin E acetate is believed to be used as a cutting agent in illicit products containing THC – the cannabis ingredient that gets people high.
Although the substance was detected in all 29 of the lung samples, which came from patients in several states, more testing is needed to establish a causal link between exposure and injury, Dr. Schuchet said, adding that “many substances are still under investigation.”
On Thursday, the CDC reported there have been 2,051 confirmed and probable U.S. lung-injury cases associated with use of vaping products in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as 39 deaths.
Nearly 85 per cent of lung-injury patients in the outbreak have reported using products containing THC. In the CDC analysis, THC was detected in 23 of 28 patient samples of lung cells, including from three patients who said they did not use THC products. Nicotine was detected in 16 of 26 patient samples.
The results were published on Friday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
In a separate report in the same journal, the Illinois Department of Public Health found that compared with vapers who did not get sick, those who had a lung injuries were significantly more likely to use THC-containing vaping products exclusively or frequently, and were nine times more likely to have purchased products from illicit sources, such as from online or off the street.
The vaping-injury patients also had a higher rate of using “Dank Vapes,” a class of largely counterfeit THC-containing products, according to the study.
Together, the findings reinforce public-health officials’ recommendation that people avoid using e-cigarettes that contain THC or any products that come from illicit sources.
Health Canada spokesman Eric Morrissette says vitamin E acetate is not allowed in Canadian cannabis vaping products. Still, he says Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are “actively monitoring the vaping- illness situation.”
That includes maintaining close contact with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC to better understand their investigations.
“Health Canada will continue to monitor all available data sources and surveillance systems and will take additional action, if warranted and as appropriate, to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” Mr. Morrissette said Friday in an e-mailed statement.
There have been seven confirmed or probable cases of severe lung illness related to vaping in Canada.
That includes two confirmed cases in Quebec, two probable cases in New Brunswick and three probable cases in British Columbia.
U.S. officials said Friday this is the first time they’ve found a common suspect in the damaged lungs of patients. But they cautioned they cannot rule out all other toxic substances, and it may take animal studies to clearly show vitamin E acetate causes lung damage.
The first Canadian was diagnosed in Quebec in September and Health Canada has urged people who vape to watch for symptoms, such as a cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and chest pain.
With files from The Canadian Press
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