More deaths reported among rising number of lung disease cases that could be due to vaping

ST. LOUIS, MO (KCTV) -- A Missouri man in his mid-40s died this week at Mercy Hospital St. Louis due to an illness associated with vaping.

This is the first vaping-related death in Missouri and the eighth nationwide.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services concluded it was a vaping-related lung injury after lung samples were taken from a Mercy patient who had a history of vaping, but normal lung function prior to starting vaping in May 2019.

He developed mild respiratory symptoms that worsened and he was hospitalized on Aug. 22 before being transferred to Mercy St. Louis on Sept. 4.

“This is an unfortunate case of a young man with no prior lung illness who started vaping because of chronic pain issues,” said Dr. Michael Plisco. “He started out with shortness of breath and it rapidly progressed and deteriorated, developing into what is called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Once the lungs are injured by vaping, we don’t know how quickly it worsens and if it depends on other risk factors.”

The man’s lungs were unable to provide enough gas exchange, which led to heart failure and near cardiac arrest. He was placed on venoarterial ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) in an effort to support his heart and rest his lungs.

“Unfortunately, because ECMO doesn’t fix the problem and only buys time for healing, it didn’t work in this case,” Dr. Plisco said. “Due to the nature of this critical illness, acute respiratory distress syndrome ultimately led to his death.”

Since the Missouri DHSS began advising, and now requiring, physicians to report possible vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses in late August, DHSS has received 22 reports from throughout the state of Missouri.

Seven of those cases, including this first death, have been confirmed using the case definition developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine are still under investigation, and six reports were investigated and did not meet CDC’s case definition.

“We are sad to report that this illness associated with vaping has now resulted in a death in Missouri and extend our condolences to his family,” said Dr. Randall Williams, DHSS director. “As previously stated, we encourage Missourians to follow the CDC guidance to refrain from using e-cigarette products if you are concerned about these specific health risks, especially while the investigation is ongoing.”

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