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Health Watch: Investigators work to crack the mystery of vaping-related illnesses

Investigators are still working furiously to pinpoint the cause of a lung disease that - as of today - has killed eleven people nationwide and hospitalized hundreds.

The most common element in the cases is the victims were all vaping, but they weren’t all vaping the same thing. Many were vaping THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but others were vaping nicotine from e-cigarettes, which themselves are so varied in their flavors and ingredients that it’s making it quite hard for investigators to find any common denominators.

“It could be that people are altering what’s going into the e-cigarettes itself, altering the contents,” said Dr. Prashant Grover, the Director of Medical Critical Care Services at St. Francis Hospital.

Even the known ingredients are problematic, like propylene glycol, which is used to increase the smoke-like cloud of vapor during a puff.

“None of these materials are benign, especially propylene glycol which is actually an antifreeze,” said Dr. Grover, “I can’t imagine putting antifreeze in your lungs is good for your lungs.”

Ingredients aside, leading pulmonologists said the very nature of vaping itself is conducive to infection and lung disease.

“It could be because of the nature of vaping - the smoke has to be heated up, so maybe a heat injury to the lung,” said Dr. Grover.

“You would not like to get close to the exhaust pipe of a bus and inhale that stuff,” said world-renowned pulmonologist Dr. Bartolome Celli, who is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, “the lungs were meant to inhale fresh air.”

Another clue – while there have been roughly 900 confirmed and suspected cases in the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canadian media reported the first suspected case in that country only last week.

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