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Wisconsin health officials investigate cases of lung damage and vaping involving older people

Posted at 5:22 PM, Aug 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-09 18:22:06-04

GREEN BAY — The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says it has confirmed cases of severe lung disease in older people who say they have recently vaped, including vaping marijuana.

Initially, the investigation included only teens and young adults, but now they are also dealing with older people.

At this point, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services says there are 12 confirmed cases of people with severe lung disease who say they've recently vaped and 13 other cases that need more investigation. Counties with at least one case include Door, Dodge, and Winnebago. Some doctors say they aren't surprised at what they're seeing.

"When they come in, it's typically a suddenly onset issue,” said Dr. Manar Alshahrouri. “You know be it breathing trouble to the point that they need to come into the ER and be sent home, or does it escalate to the point they have to be admitted to the hospital or even to the ICU. We've seen all these scenarios.”

He says he's seen both toxic lung issues that cause respiratory problems and even psychotic reactions in those who vaped.

"We don't know what's in there,” said Dr. Alshahrouri. “A lot of the stuff that we see is synthetic cannabinoids, so synthetic marijuana, etc., but there's a lot of other chemicals in those and those chemicals change from manufacturer to manufacturer. "

A manager at Vapin' USA says she’s not aware of her customers ever having similar issues, and they’ve had six locations for more than six years, with customers from 18 to older than 70. She wonders about the quality of the products used by the people who've gotten sick. Health regulators haven’t said what the sick people used or where they bought it.

Dr. Alshahrouri says he thinks they will see a lot more cases moving forward.

"There's more recognition like any other disease. You know, we're more aware of it, the ER docs are more aware of it, the physicians are more aware of it, and I think we'll be making more of this diagnosis.”

DHS says patients' conditions have improved with treatment, but what's not known right now is what long-term effects they might see.