Health and Science

'No common thread' in hundreds of vaping lung disease cases, top FDA official says

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Key Points
  • There is "no common thread" among hundreds of vaping-related lung disease cases, says a top FDA official.
  • Some cases involve THC, some involve CBD and some involve nicotine, the FDA's Mitch Zeller says.
  • At least 530 people have fallen ill and 11 have died from the illness.
Mitch Zeller, Director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, speaks a news conference announcing the FDA Youth Tobacco Prevention Campaign at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 in Washington.
Kevin Wolf | AP Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There's "no common thread" in hundreds of cases of a mysterious lung disease that resembles a rare form of pneumonia, thwarting health officials' efforts to identify a cause, a top FDA official said Thursday.

"The challenge we're facing is there's no common thread," Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products, said at the Global Nicotine and Tobacco Forum in Washington, D.C. "It's certainly looking like many of the cases involve THC, but not all cases. Some of the cases involve oils. Not all cases. There are CBD cases."

A vaping-related lung disease has sickened at least 530 people as of Friday and killed 11, with hundreds of new cases identified in the last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors say it resembles lipoid pneumonia, which is caused when oil gets into the lungs. While health officials have linked the illness to vaping, they are struggling to identify the exact cause.

Investigators, who are interviewing patients, say people may be unwilling to disclose using an illegal product like THC, the CDC has said. The FDA is analyzing more than 150 samples for the presence of a broad range of substances, including nicotine, THC, other cannabinoids, cutting agents, opioids, toxins and poisons, Zeller told reporters last week.

"Again, these are self reports so we might want to question the accuracy of self reports but some self reports are claiming only using nicotine products," Zeller said. "This is a challenge for everybody involved in the ongoing investigations, but the right coordination exists between federal agencies and state health agencies that are the boots on the ground in this."

The outbreak has heightened scrutiny on the already embattled e-cigarette industry.