Oct. 31 (UPI) -- The number of U.S. vaping-related deaths appears to have tapered off, remaining at 34 this week, while the number of lung-injury cases rose slightly to 1,888 in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
Federal health investigators from the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continue to say they are unsure what agents or combination of agents could be causing the lung illness, which they have named "e- cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury," or EVALI.
Investigators continue to note a correlation with patients who smoked THC vape cartridges and lung injury.
"We recommend that you do not use e-cigarette or vaping products that contain THC," an email from the CDC said this week. "And since the specific cause or causes of lung injury are not yet known, the only way to assure that you are not at risk while the investigation continues is to consider refraining from use of all e-cigarette and vaping products."
States with the most patient deaths are California, Georgia, Indiana and Minnesota, with three each. Two deaths each were reported by health officials in Illinois, Kansas, Oregon and Tennessee. Other states with one death are Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia, the federal health agency said.
The CDC said in a report Monday that the median age for patients who survived EVALI was 23, and the median age of EVALI patients who died was 45. Of the 867 patients interviewed about their vaping history, 86 percent reported products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), most of them obtained from illicit markets. Seventy percent of the patients were male.
The FDA has said that forensic criminal investigators are following supply chains of possible tainted THC vapes to international postal facilities.
Last week, seven New York residents were arrested in New Jersey and accused of distributing large quantities of THC vape cartridges in New York City and Bergen County, N.J. Prosecutors said they recovered marijuana and THC vape cartridges valued at $500,000.
More than 60 cases of vaping-related lung illness were reported in New York and one death. New Jersey's health department has reported 57 confirmed and probable cases and one death.
Utah crisis severe
In Utah, the crisis has been particularly severe, with 83 patients reportedly seeking treatment for vaping-related lung injury, and one death, according to a report last week in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Of the 70 Utah patients who were hospitalized, half required breathing assistance, the report said. More than half of the patients reported using THC-containing vapes in the three months prior to symptoms, and those who did described vaping between once and five times per day.
State health officials collected samples from patients and found vitamin E acetate in 17 THC vape cartridges of 20 sampled. Patients told investigators they obtained the THC vapes through informal sources such as friends, or off the street.
Also in Utah, around 42 percent of the patients told investigators they smoked nicotine-only vapes an average of more than 25 times per day.
Patients exhibited symptoms that include coughing, shortness of breath or chest pains. Some patients reported experiencing nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Other symptoms include fatigue, fever or weight loss, the CDC has said.
The agency has issued warnings to health practitioners to be on the lookout for vaping-related illnesses in people who exhibit flu symptoms.