Possible chemical culprit found in vaping illness outbreak

Investigators narrow in on what's causing vaping illness

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - There is big news in the investigation into the cause of an outbreak of vaping illnesses. Health officials say they have a “very strong culprit.”

The same chemical compound was found in fluid taken from the lungs of 29 patients across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The compound, vitamin E acetate, was previously found in liquid from electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices used by many of those who got sick.

This is the first time officials say they’ve found a common suspect in the damaged lungs of patients.

“We are in a better place in terms of having one very strong culprit,” the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat said.

Agency officials cautioned they cannot rule out all other toxic substances, and it may take animal studies to clearly show vitamin E acetate causes the lung damage that's been seen.

More than 2,000 Americans who vape have gotten sick since March, many of them teen and young adults. At least 40 people have died.

Vitamin E acetate has only recently been used as a thickener in vaping fluid, particularly in black market vape cartridges. While vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, inhaling oily droplets of it can be harmful. It’s sticky and stays in the lungs. The CDC’s Dr. Jim Pirkle likened it to honey.

Symptoms of the vaping illness include trouble breathing, chest pain, fatigue and vomiting. Imaging tests show lung injuries and doctors can't find infections or other causes.

For more information from the CDC, visit their website.

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