Tarrant County sees spike in number of lung illness cases tied to vaping

The number of lung illness cases believed to be linked to vaping has spiked locally, in Texas and across the country.

The latest reports show there are now 13 local cases, up from eight reported just two weeks ago, Tarrant County public health officials said Friday.

At the same time, the number of lung illnesses tied to vaping that are being investigated in Texas has gone from 29 to 54 and the number of cases being investigated across the country has grown from around 400 to 805, state and federal health reports show.

“I wish we had answers already,” Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control, said during a congressional hearing this week. “I actually think there may be a very complex set of root causes here that are going to be difficult for us to address as a nation.

“And we need to take it very seriously.”

The CDC has confirmed 12 deaths tied to vaping, none from Texas. And health officials across the country are asking people to not vape.

Vaping — which quickly became popular with youth across the country — is when a person inhales and exhales a chemical produced by some form of an e-cigarette.

E-cigarettes don’t produce tobacco smoke. Instead, they heat up nicotine and flavoring to create a vapor people inhale. Many of the “pods” used in e-cigarettes, also known as vape pens, contain more nicotine than cigarettes.

As more and more cases of lung illness tied to vaping are reported, President Trump has said his administration will consider banning the sales of flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods.

Walmart even announced recently it will phase out sales of e-cigarettes.

Texas cases

The latest Texas numbers show that 22 of the state’s vaping-associated severe lung disease cases come from North Texas.

Another 14 are from Southeast Texas.

Six more cases are in the Rio Grande Valley, five are in Central Texas, three are in South Texas and two are reported in both East Texas and West Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“We continue to get reports of cases and investigate them,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the department. “We’re seeing both newly occurring cases within the last couple of weeks and newly recognized cases from several weeks ago that a doctor or patient is now connecting to vaping and reporting to public health.”

Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, difficulty breathing and potentially nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Tarrant cases

Health department officials say there is no other information they can release about the Tarrant cases. But they note that the cases are being investigated by state health workers.

Eight cases of lung illness believed to be linked to vaping had been reported in Tarrant County as of Sept. 13. That now is up to 13, officials said Friday.

The county has set up a website with information about vaping in general.

“Tarrant County Public Health believes it’s important for parents to know that their child’s continued exposure to e-cigarettes of ANY kind can harm their brain and seriously affect their ability to learn, remember and maintain focus,” the website states. “And we want to help you help your child understand what they may be doing to themselves.”

“Take the time to talk with your teen about vaping,” the website states. “You could be saving their life.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.