PORTLAND, Ore. — Two more states reported deaths from a mysterious lung illness tied to vaping, on Friday. That brings the total number of lives lost to five.
Officials in Minnesota confirmed the 65-year-old patient there died in August after a “long and complicated hospitalization.”
In California, doctors in Los Angeles County held a press conference Friday afternoon, where they confirmed the illness killed an adult who was older than 55.
They, like experts across the nation, couldn’t yet say which specific vaping product or compound killed the person.
“Questions around ‘Is this really a chemical irritation in the lung or an allergic reaction or an immunological reaction?’... That all remains to be seen,” said County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis.
The deaths come alongside a startling report from the Centers for Disease Control, Friday, that the number of people sickened by this illness jumped to 450 this week, from 215 late last month.
They said most, but not all, used products containing THC, adding, again, they haven’t narrowed down which chemical found in vaping products is making people sick.
Dr. Daniel Croft, who’s leading a team of researchers at the University of Rochester in studying this illness, told NBC symptoms include, “…shortness of breath, cough and even some GI symptoms, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea… Sometimes we see blood in the airway, which can be alarming.”
He added those sickened include a lot of young, otherwise healthy people.
Meanwhile, doctors with the Oregon Health Authority are working to provide investigators with more information about the death that occurred in July.
Dr. Tom Jeanne told KGW Friday they can’t say how long the middle-aged adult vaped before they died.
“We just know the person had vaped recently, immediately prior to the illness,” he said.
Through friends and loved ones, they have determined the person bought vaping products at two licensed Oregon marijuana dispensaries shortly before becoming sick.
The OHA wouldn’t give the names of those two dispensaries or reveal where in Oregon they are.
Dr. Jeanne also said the agency hasn’t informed the owners of those dispensaries about their connection to the death.
KGW also checked with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates the state’s recreational marijuana industry.
Spokesman Mark Pettinger sent the following statement via email:
OHA is leading this investigation and OLCC is supporting them.
Therefore it’s at OHA’s discretion to decide what if any information to release regarding the victim, and the details about any product potentially linked to an OLCC licensed retailer, including the product type and brand, where and when it was purchased, and any official communication with dispensaries.
Dr. Jeanne said Friday they’re focusing on gathering samples of the products used by the deceased person to send to the feds.
“We're trying to figure out if there's a contaminant perhaps in certain products or if it's something to do with modifications to existing products,” he said. “We really don’t know that.”
The one message that was clear Friday came from Dr. Davis in LA County.
“If you don't have to vape, don't do it right now,” he said.