The number of reported cases in Illinois involving people who have used e-cigarettes or vaped and were later hospitalized with respiratory issues has doubled in the past week

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An Illinois resident who had recently vaped tragically died after contracting a severe respiratory illness, the state’s Department of Public Health (IDHP) announced.

The IDPH issued a statement on Friday about the unidentified resident’s death, as well as the severity of the situation, noting that the number of reported cases in Illinois involving people who have used e-cigarettes or vaped and were later hospitalized with respiratory issues has doubled in the past week.

“A total of 22 people, ranging in age from 17-38 years, have experienced respiratory illness after using e-cigarettes or vaping,” the department wrote. “IDPH is working with local health departments to investigate another 12 individuals.”

The cases were reported across 11 counties in Illinois, including Chicago and Champaign, Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, Peoria, St. Clair and Will.

Most of the individuals who were suffering from respiratory illness showed symptoms of a cough, shortness of breath and fatigue, while others experienced vomiting and diarrhea, according to the IDPH.

The department also said that most cases progressively worsened over the course of a few days or weeks before the individuals were hospitalized.

Pretty young hipster woman vape ecig, vaping device at the sunset. Toned image
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Though the respiratory illnesses appear to be linked to a patient’s prior use of nicotine and/or THC-containing products, medical professionals have been unable to conclusively determine the connection, and whether specific vapes or e-cigarettes are causing the health issue.

A spokesperson with the IDPH said they are now working with local health departments, other state health departments and the Food and Drug Administration to further investigate the “alarming” matter.

“The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in the release. “We requested a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help us investigate these cases and they arrived in Illinois on Tuesday.”

Anyone who is experiencing chest pain or difficulty breathing after using a vape or e-cigarette is urged to seek medical attention immediately.

Doctors are also advised to ask their patients who develop sudden respiratory illnesses about their history of vaping or e-cigarette use, according to the IDPH.

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The rise of respiratory illnesses in Illinois comes on the heels of the news that nearly 22 people in the Midwest, many of whom are young adults, had been hospitalized with “severe breathing difficulties linked to vaping,” according to NBC News.

Four of the cases were reported in Minnesota, while another 12 were in Wisconsin and six were in Illinois, the outlet reported.

The number also represented an increase from early August, when health officials announced that fourteen teenagers had been hospitalized: eleven teens and young adults in Wisconsin, and three young people in Illinois.

In a statement obtained by Fox6 News, Megan Cordova, executive director of the American Lung Association Wisconsin issued the following on the matter:

“The American Lung Association has always held the position that e-cigarette use is NOT safe, especially by youth whose lungs are still developing. E-cigarettes contain chemicals, heavy metals and fine particulates. The candy and fruit-flavorings that so many youth find appealing also contain chemicals known to cause irreparable lung damage. These flavorings are designed to tempt kids and give the false impression that e-cigarettes are safe. Contrary to what the industry would have them believe, e-cigarettes are NOT SIMPLY HARMLESS WATER VAPOR.”

“Wisconsin had made enormous strides in reducing smoking rates but now faces a new generation of nicotine addiction among our youth,” Cordova continued. “We call on lawmakers to act swiftly to enact laws to turn the tide on this growing epidemic – raising the legal purchase of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes to 21, adding e-cigarettes to the states smoke-free air law and taxing e-cigarettes the same as regular combustible cigarettes.”

Health officials claim prolonged use of vaping chemicals can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is a permanent condition that lessens lung effectiveness in transporting oxygen.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.