8 Wisconsin teens hospitalized with severe lung damage due to vaping, doctors suspect

Eight teens were hospitalized in July with seriously damaged lungs in Wisconsin, the state Department of Health Services reported Thursday.

“We suspect that these injuries were caused by vaping,” said Dr. Michael Gutzeit, chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin where the teens were admitted, at a press conference.

Their symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue, worsened over days or weeks before the patients arrived at Children’s Hospital. Some reported fever, anorexia, chest pain, nausea and diarrhea. Scans and X-rays showed inflammation or swelling throughout both lungs, Gutzeit said.

All eight patients, who live in Milwaukee, Waukesha and Winnebago counties, tested negative for infectious diseases and reported vaping in the weeks and months before their hospital admission.

“The severity of health condition has varied, with some patients needing assistance in order to breathe,” Gutzeit said. He added that the teens have shown improvement after treatment, but any long-term effects are not yet known. With “an exponential increase in the number of teens vaping,” Gutzeit is concerned that more teens will develop similar lung damage that requires hospital treatment.

In Wisconsin, 11% of middle schoolers have tried electronic tobacco products, while 4% of middle schoolers are current users, according to the health department. By the time they reach high school, 32% have tried e-cigarettes and 20% consider themselves current users.

Vaping is relatively new, since e-cigs were introduced in the US less than 15 years ago. Scientists do not understand all the ways vaping can harm health.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the same highly addictive chemical compound found in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Nicotine can damage the parts of the brain that control attention and learning.

There have also been cases of the devices exploding and injuring users.

Add to that, the cloud is not harmless “water vapor,” as many teens believe. The vapor cloud results from burning e-liquids, which can cause vomiting, confusion, heart rhythm problems, coma and even death if ingested, Wisconsin’s health department said. And scientists who have analyzed e-liquids say that sometimes these fluids contain heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Teens can buy e-liquids that taste like gummy bears, cotton candy, peanut butter cups and cookies ‘n cream, to name a few. As they experiment, some kids find their way to the stronger stuff: More than 80% of teens who have ever used tobacco start with a flavored product, one study shared by the Wisconsin health department found.

Wisconsin is not alone in this problem. Nationwide, vaping among US middle and high school students increased 900% between 2011 and 2015, according to a report from the US Surgeon General. Though a small decline in popularity followed 2015, current use of e-cigs has increased 78% among high school students during the past year alone, the same report found. Overall, more than 3.6 million teens across the country, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, currently use e-cigs.

“It’s very important for teens and parents to understand more about vaping,” Gutzeit said. “Talk to each other. Understand the risks of vaping.”

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10 comments

  • jeffinbville (@JeffInBville)

    I see FOX17 has jumped onto the anti-vaping bandwagon by posting articles so bereft of facts and details that it amounts to little more than propaganda.

    ““We suspect that these injuries were caused by vaping,” said Dr. Michael Gutzeit, chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin where the teens were admitted, at a press conference.”

    Alright, I’ve been vaping for years and have never had this problem – unless I was using cheap crap bought at a gas station or convenience store. So it would help the story – and the truth – if we knew which product these kids had a bad reaction to. And then, just for fun, compare the number of health-related issues from vaping as opposed to *smoking*. But that would ruin the fun. Truth always hurts those with an agenda.

    • ninja parent

      Actually you seem to be hidden by the truth to protect your own habits. Perhaps when you have children you will have a stronger desire to protect them! So know it all where did you get your medical degree? Now they are vaping marijuana, but I’ll bet you already knew that.. Until you can actually dispute with science to prove you are correct stop encouraging the innocent children vaping just looking for others their age to like them…

  • Randy Jasky

    This article is so full of lies and bullshit, I couldn’t finish it.
    First, those kids ILLEGALLY acquired their vape pens…from an unknown source. They could have been filled with ANYTHING…and probably were.
    I quit my 30+ year smoking habit via vaping, 5 years ago, and I am much healthier as a result. My blood pressure came down to normal, I can run up a flight of stairs without being winded, my cough went away, and I can smell/taste things now that I never could before.
    I hope these kids all return to health, and I hope that going forward they know better than to vape something they bought off someone else on “the street”.
    It is not the fault of the vapes.

    P.S. – Vapes don’t burn anything. There is no combustion involved, which is why it is MUCH safer/healthier than smoking.

  • Laura Saari

    I am a mother of four boys. It is a tragedy whenever a child is injured in some way. I really hope that they figure out what happened to these children so they can get the medical help that they need.
    It is very easy to get excited about the unknown. Vaping in the US is very new. There are many misconceptions and a terrible stigma about vaping. Traditional vaping uses propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavoring, and nicotine if desired. Vaping devices that are used with these ingredients in them are exponentially safer than smoking cigarettes.
    It is common knowledge that various individuals have experimented with what can go in these vaping devices. After reading this article, I am convinced that these children were not vaping in the traditional way.
    This being said, it is our duty as adults and parents to educate our children on the good and bad sides of all topics. Understanding and knowledge are key to developing. I really hope that people can do some serious research. There is very good scientific studies out there if you seek them out.
    I was a heavy smoker for 12 years, and after vaping for about 4 years,my breathing problems have gone away and I feel much healthier. I am in no way dismissing anybodys opinion on this subject. I just really want to spread awareness on this issue.
    No, I am not a doctor I do not have a medical degree but that doesn’t make my words invalid.

  • Super Juicy

    You guys have got to do better than this. The title is misleading as h*ll claiming smoking vapes caused these hospitalizations and subtly follows up with “doctors suspect”. Maybe lead with that.
    Later in the article you say “Add to that, the cloud is not harmless “water vapor,” as many teens believe. The vapor cloud results from burning e-liquids, which can cause vomiting, confusion, heart rhythm problems, coma and even death if ingested, Wisconsin’s health department said.” I think when most people read that, they read that burning the eliquid (aka smoking the vape) can cause these problems. But what the health department actually said was “Ingesting the nicotine in e-liquids can cause vomiting, confusion, cardiac arrhythmia, coma, and death”, meaning that (like most people should know) liquid nicotine is poisonous if ingested. Also my understanding is that the “burning” technically doesnt occur as the vape technically heats the liquid to a point of vaporization but below that of combustion.

  • DW

    The chances that casual vaping caused this degree of damage is minimal, if not unfounded. That it would do this to 8 people in the same town is infinitesimal in chance. That these 8 people are all friends makes me wonder what the hell they were actually huffing.

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