Lung Injuries Associated with E-Cigarette Use May Be Mistaken for COVID-19

Amid continued concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the risk of serious lung injuries that first emerged last year among e-cigarette users continues to be a problem in 2020, and that some cases of e-cigarette-associated lung damage may be mistaken for COVID-19. If you or a loved one has experienced serious lung injuries or another major side effect that you believe may be linked to vaping, contact an experienced e-cigarette injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. You may have grounds to file a product liability lawsuit against the e-cigarette manufacturer, in order to pursue the financial compensation you deserve for the harm you have suffered.

Patients Hospitalized with EVALI in California

In the June 26, 2020 volume of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC noted that reports of at least eight patients hospitalized with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) were submitted to the California Department of Public Health in April 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the report, the patients resided in five California counties and were between the ages of 14 and 50. Seven of the eight patients were younger than 21 years of age. In each case, the patient was hospitalized within a median of four days after the onset of symptoms. Four of the patients were admitted to an intensive care unit and two required mechanical ventilation.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak first emerged in early 2020, there has been little attention paid to the EVALI issue, which resulted in nearly 3,000 cases of severe lung injury in the United States last year, including at least 68 deaths. However, the risk of serious lung injuries from vaping continues to be a problem in 2020, and with growing fears about COVID-19, federal health experts are concerned that cases of EVALI may be mistaken for coronavirus. Indeed, all eight EVALI patients included in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report were first tested for COVID-19 before being diagnosed with EVALI, and seven of the patients were tested two or more times. It was only after the coronavirus tests came back negative that doctors began to suspect that the patients’ symptoms may have been caused by vaping. Unfortunately, it took a median of three days (between one and eight days) after the patients were admitted to the hospital for the doctors to come to this conclusion.

E-Cigarette Epidemic Among U.S. Teens

E-cigarettes have become an extremely popular tobacco product in recent years, most notably among teenagers and young adults. In fact, experts warn that vaping and e-cigarette use among youth has reached epidemic levels in the United States. According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Study, more than five million middle and high school students are current users of e-cigarettes, a significant increase from roughly 3.6 million the previous year. Unfortunately, many teens and young adults who routinely use e-cigarettes do not know that they could be vaping with nicotine, which can lead to nicotine addiction and adversely affect brain development, or that their e-cigarette use could put them at risk for serious lung injury. Individuals affected by e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury typically experience symptoms ranging from cough, shortness of breath and chest pain to fever, fatigue, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea.

Lung Damage Linked to Vitamin E Acetate Additive

The EVALI outbreak in the United States has been strongly linked to vitamin E acetate, an additive found in some THC-containing e-cigarettes that, when inhaled, can interfere with normal lung functioning. Research suggests that vitamin E acetate, which does not appear to cause harm when applied topically or ingested via skin care creams or dietary supplements, can contribute to lung injury when heated in e-cigarette products. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2020, vitamin E acetate was found in the bronchoalveolar-lavage fluid (fluid from the lungs) of 94% of patients with EVALI. According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality report, seven out of the eight EVALI patients tested positive for THC and the eighth patient reported vaping THC.

Doctors Advised to Ask About E-Cigarette Use During COVID-19 Evaluations

After sharply increasing in August 2019 and peaking in September 2019, EVALI reports in the U.S. began to decline in late 2019 and early 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak struck. In fact, the EVALI cases outlined in the CDC report were the first to be reported to the CDPH since February 2020 and the first since the widespread transmission of coronavirus was discovered in California. Because EVALI and COVID-19 symptoms are similar, the CDC recommends that healthcare providers ask patients who present with symptoms consistent with EVALI, especially teens and young adults, about any e-cigarette use during their coronavirus evaluations. Furthermore, the California Department of Public Health “urges everyone to refrain from using all e-cigarette, or vaping, products and recommends not using THC-containing products obtained from informal sources such as social contacts, online dealers, and unlicensed retailers.”