BY JOHN FINNERTY
CNHI HARRISBURG BUREAU
HARRISBURG — Vaping-related lung illness has claimed its first life in Pennsylvania, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Friday.
Levine declined to provide any information about the victim or where in the state he or she lived while speaking to reporters at the state Capitol.
The individual died in September, said Sharon Watkins, the state epidemiologist.
The death appears to be the 19th nationally. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week there have been 18 vaping-related deaths in 15 states, but didn’t include the Pennsylvania case.
“The investigations in these cases are very complex and evolving every day,” Levine said. “We can’t say, definitively, what’s making people sick.”
Symptoms of lung injury associated with vaping include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss, Levine said.
People suffering from a suspected vaping-related illness should see a doctor, because of the life-threatening nature of the illness, Levine said.
The CDC said there have been 1,080 illnesses linked to vaping across the country.
Levine said the state Health Department has confirmed nine cases of lung illness linked to vaping and there are another 12 cases that are considered probable cases of vaping-related lung illness in Pennsylvania. The department said an additional 63 cases are being investigated as potentially involving vaping-related lung illness.
Levine said, “the vast majority” of illnesses linked to vaping are believed to involve cases in which the individual was vaping illegal cartridges containing THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana.
“I strongly urge everyone who is vaping illegally bought products, in particular, those with THC, to stop. In addition, there could be possible risks with legally purchased products,” Levine said. “We want to warn people that investigations are ongoing and we advise they use extreme caution before using any vaping product at this time.”
The first case in Pennsylvania was reported in June, Watkins said.
Levine said the outbreak was initially concentrated in southwestern Pennsylvania, but since then cases have been reported across the state.
Levine said those vaping medical marijuana should check with their doctor or the pharmacist at the dispensary to determine whether to continue vaping or seek an alternative.
She said that unlike the black market products blamed for most of the vaping illnesses, the state’s medical marijuana is heavily-regulated and lab tested.