Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The number of reported deaths has risen again nationwide in an outbreak of vaping-related lung illness linked to tainted THC vapes, federal health investigators said Tuesday.
Sixty-four deaths have been confirmed in 28 states as of Feb. 4, up by four from those counted by Jan. 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The total number of reported hospitalized patients nationwide rose to 2,758 cases, up by 47 since the last update two weeks ago from federal health officials.
THC vapes tainted with the cutting ingredient vitamin E acetate, a product safe for eating and topical uses, and have been linked to e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury, or EVALI. But CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration health officials still say more than one cause of the disease could exist.
Health officials believe the outbreak crested in September, 2019, but new cases still are being confirmed nationwide. More deaths are still under investigation.
Federal health agencies have warned people not to use illegal THC vaping products.
As the vaping crisis gained headlines, the number of THC vape sales in legal cannabis markets dropped across the country in states where recreational cannabis is legal, an analysis by the trade journal Marijuana Business Magazine showed.
The largest decreases were in Washington, where the percentage of cannabis vape sales dropped by almost 50 percent. But markets in California, Colorado and Nevada appeared to be bouncing back again.
The crisis caused a rethinking of the vaping sector, causing companies to more carefully vet suppliers and distinguish themselves from the illicit product market.
"In short, having a legal market likely saved lives," Omar Sacirbey wrote in the magazine.
Meanwhile, a nationwide ban on flavored e-cigarette nicotine vaping pods with fruit and mint flavors went into effect last week.
Federal health officials have said nicotine vapes are unrelated to the national vaping lung illness outbreak.
The ban, which was passed to address the crisis of youth vaping, may have a loophole, because it only applies to cartridge or prefilled pod products manufactured by companies such as Juul. Disposable vapes in with various flavors remain on the market.