Health officials confirm first Minnesota death linked to vaping

Health officials confirm first Minnesota death linked to vaping Photo: Thomas Hooten / CDC / MGN

Updated: September 06, 2019 10:07 PM

Minnesota health officials on Friday confirmed the first death in the state associated with an outbreak of serious lung injuries related to vaping.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said the person was over 65 years old and died in August after a long and complicated hospitalization. Officials said the person had a history of underlying lung disease and was hospitalized with a severe lung injury that progressed to included other conditions.

However, investigators are looking into the case after it was learned the patient's lung injury was associated with vaping illicit THC products.

"One death from this outbreak is one death too many," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. "We are working with our partners around the state and the nation to find out everything we can as quickly as we can to prevent additional illnesses and deaths."

MDH said Minnesota has had 17 patients to date who have been classified as confirmed or possible cases, and an additional 15 cases are under investigation. Officials said patients have been hospitalized for days to weeks, many in the intensive care unit.

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All of those interviewed have reported vaping illicit THC products, MDH said. Many also reported vaping other products, including those containing nicotine. The CDC said more than 450 potential or confirmed cases of severe lung injury have been reported in 33 states, many using cannabinoid products like THC.

Health officials said an investigation looking for a specific factor that might have caused the lung injuries is still underway, but no Minnesota cases have been associated with the use of cannabis vaporization products acquired solely through Minnesota's medical cannabis program.

Officials urged people to avoid vaping illicit THC products, and people with a history of vaping who are experiencing lung injury symptoms were advised to seek medical care. MDH said if you're experiencing symptoms, avoid using e-cigarettes and other vaping products. In Minnesota, symptoms among cases included shortness of breath, fever, cough, and vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms reported by some patients included headache, dizziness and chest pain.

"Our sympathies go out to the family of the person who died," Gov. Tim Walz said. "This tragedy and the serious injuries suffered by others show the stakes of this outbreak. Health officials are working hard to determine a cause and share information to prevent additional injuries. As that work continues, I urge Minnesotans to follow their guidance."

"We're not to blame for this, street drugs are," said Michael Weiss, general manager at Vape Pros. 

Those in the vaping industry say it's too early to blame the industry as a whole for the death and illnesses. 

"I think a lot of the stuff we see and hear is based off of personal opinion and not facts," Weiss said. 

Weiss is the general manager of Vape Pros. They've been open since 2013, and he says they have thousands of customers many who are using their products to quit cigarettes.

"We're not claiming from my standpoint that this is better than breathing oxygen but we're saying it's better than smoking a traditional cigarette," Weiss said. 

The problem Weiss has is when their industry gets lumped into vaping with substances like THC, something they don't sell. Weiss says their products are regulated, but vaping with illicit substances isn't. 

"Stop blaming us for stuff that's going on with illicit cartridges," Weiss said. "We need the facts, before we start blaming and pointing fingers we need to see exactly what's going on." 

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