U.S. officials identify 'strong culprit' in vaping illnesses

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USA health officials have been sounding the alarm amid a nationwide outbreak of serous lung illnesses linked to vaping, and have raised concerns about the use of electronic smoking devices, particularly among youth.

As NBC News reported earlier, numerous lung illnesses have been diagnosed as lipoid pneumonia, in which large amount of lipids, potentially from inhaling vaporized oil, become concentrated in the lungs.

Clarification: This story and headline has been updated to reflect that vitamin E acetate, which is sometimes used a thickening agent in THC vaping products, has been linked to vaping-related lung injuries.

U.S. federal health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified a substance which they believe may have caused lung injuries in over 2,000 people and killed at least 39, The Washington Post reported Friday.

"The trend in cases appears to be downward, but we understand that some states are still hard hit and this continues to be a very active investigation", Schuchat said.

"These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury among EVALI patients and are consistent with FDA product testing and media reports of state public health laboratory testing documenting vitamin E acetate in product samples used by EVALI patients", the CDC said in a news release.

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Vitamin E acetate has been a strong candidate ever since NY state health officials first identified vitamin E acetate in several samples.

Vitamin E acetate was the only substance tested for that showed up in all 29 samples.

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the CDC, called it a "breakthrough" in their investigation. For the study, health investigators collected bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples-that is fluid flushed into and then recollected from the lung through a tube inserted into the mouth or nose. Health investigators have said since almost the beginning of the outbreak in mid-August that some ingredients, including vitamin E acetate, could be responsible for some of the lung illness cases. Nicotine was detected in 16 of 26 patients. Vitamin E acetate has been highlighted as a huge concern by proponents of vaping for months, and once people began falling ill it seemed like the most likely culprit.

He described vitamin E Acetate as "oily - not kind of a common oil, but it's an oily substance".

The findings are being published in Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It's not known to cause harm when swallowed or applied to the skin, Schuchat said. That doesn't mean other vaping products are in the clear-it's possible some of those contain vitamin A acetate too, or that another chemical is involved-but at this point it sounds like the CDC agrees that vitamin A acetate in THC vapes is the thing that's most worth worrying about right now.