Missouri man is first in state, eighth nationwide to die from vaping-related illness

Vaping and health risks – What you need to know

ST. LOUIS — A Missouri man in his mid-40s is confirmed to have died from a vaping-related illness -- the first vaping-related death in Missouri and the eighth such death nationwide.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced the man's death Thursday in a statement. DHSS officials confirmed the death was vape-related by examining lung samples from the decedent, the statement said.

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DHSS officials said the man had normal lung function before he began vaping in May to treat chronic pain. He then began experiencing respiratory symptoms that worsened and led to his hospitalization Aug. 22. He was transferred Sept. 4 to Mercy Hospital St. Louis, where he died.

“He started out with shortness of breath and it rapidly progressed and deteriorated, developing into what is called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)," Dr. Michael Plisco, Mercy Hospital St. Louis critical care pulmonologist, said in the statement. "Once the lungs are injured by vaping, we don’t know how quickly it worsens and if it depends on other risk factors.”

Because the man's lungs were unable to produce gas exchange, the statement said, he was placed on venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a device meant to support his heart and rest his lungs.

“Unfortunately, because ECMO doesn’t fix the problem and only buys time for healing, it didn’t work in this case,” Plisco said. “Due to the nature of this critical illness, acute respiratory distress syndrome ultimately led to his death.”

Since Missouri health officials began advising and now requiring physicians to report cases of possible vaping-related illnesses since late August, DHSS has received 22 reports from throughout the state, according to the statement. Seven of those cases, including this death, have been confirmed using the case definition developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine cases are still under investigation, and six did not meet the CDC's definition.

As of Tuesday, there had been 530 reported cases of lung injury associated with the use of e-cigarette or vaping products in 38 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the CDC. It's unclear if this data includes the Missouri death.

Investigators don't yet know the specific cause of these lung injuries, the CDC said. The CDC recommends refraining from using vape products until health officials know more about what causes the lung injuries.