Dec. 5 (UPI) -- The number of vaping-related illness cases across the United States still is growing, with deaths climbing by one to 48, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Other deaths are under investigation, the agency said.
The number of cases of hospitalized patients was reported Thursday to be 2,291, up from 2,290 reported Nov. 21. But the agency said 175 outpatient cases had been removed from the total count indicating that the total hospitalization figure rose by 176 in the last two weeks.
Vaping-related lung illness has now spread to all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
As of this week, the agency changed its method for reporting cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury, or EVALI. Going forward, the CDC will only report cases in which patients were hospitalized or died.
Alaska became the latest and last state to report a vaping-related case that required hospitalization. A teenager in Juneau was taken to the hospital Thanksgiving Day with symptoms of EVALI, which health officials identified as the first official case in the state.
The Food and Drug Administration and CDC have identified vitamin E acetate, a cutting agent used in illicit THC vaping cartridges, as a "culprit of concern" in the vaping illness, but has warned that other chemicals or combinations of substances might be causing the illness.
"We know there is something new, a recent change that has caused this illness," CDC's Teresa Wang of the Office on Smoking and Health said Wednesday in a webinar for medical professionals. The agency has more than 150 staff members working on the investigation, Wang said.
Wang said the agency was working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the FDA to follow possible supply chains based on geographic clusters of EVALI outbreaks.
The CDC and FDA have advised people to stay away from vaping THC products and especially those obtained through illegal sources or online. They also advised people to refrain from vaping e-cigarettes until the exact cause of the outbreak is identified.
Also this week, the state of Minnesota sued e-cigarette maker Juul for allegedly deceptive practices for e-cigarettes have "erased a decade of progress to lower teen smoking rates," Jan Malcolm, the state's health commissioner said.
Minnesota has had three deaths from vaping-related illness and more than 40 people hospitalized. The state's law enforcement agencies said they arrested a suburban Minneapolis man and recovered 77,000 illicit THC cartridges in September.
Minnesota's health department found vitamin E acetate in illicit cartridges recovered from patients who had been hospitalized for vaping-related lung illness, the CDC reported last week in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.