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Utah Doctors Issued Treatment Guide For Vaping-Related Illness

MURRAY, Utah — A task force at Intermountain Healthcare has completed the largest study yet of the puzzling vaping-related illness and developed a treatment guide for doctors.

The study was published in Friday’s issue of The Lancet, one of the world’s best-known and most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals.

The lung injury diagnosis and treatment guidelines they developed are based on the cumulative clinical experience of treating more than 60 patients throughout the health system’s 24 hospitals and 215 clinics.

“There’s a lot that’s unknown about this disease,” said Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist with Intermountain Healthcare. “It’s brand new. We’re sharing our experience and helping people.”

The treatment guidelines are the first to be published, at a time when doctors are still seeing four to five new cases of vaping-associated lung illness in Utah each week.

The first guidelines for treatment are critical for vaping-associated lung illness patients across the country.

The study was based on more than 60 patients across the Intermountain Healthcare system.

“The majority of them have vaped THC, although, there are definitely patients who have only vaped nicotine,” Blagev said.

She also said there’s no obvious source for the illness nor a single shop or batch of vaping cartridges that are making vapers sick.

Dr. Dixie Harris, another pulmonologist on the vaping task force, discovered the arrival of the illness in Utah in August.

“This was very early, so we didn’t even know about this process, this outbreak,” she said.

In a matter of days, Harris connected the symptoms of four patients through their telehealth system.

When she looked at their chest x-rays, she could tell something was damaging the victims’ lungs.

“The only part of this lung that is mostly normal is the very top part which is this black area,” she said, looking at the x-ray. “The air sacs, which are supposed to be full of air, now are full of other substances: cells, inflammation, fluid, and are not able to do their job to deliver oxygen into the bloodstream.”

Harris said whatever is in the vapor is collecting in the lungs, crowding out the air.

“There is no safe thing to vape anywhere, at this time. It’s not just THC. We’ve seen it in nicotine. People that have been vaping for years and years have gotten sick,” Blagev said.

The pulmonologists with this task force developed a tiered treatment approach with steroids based on the seriousness of the vaping related illness. They are the first to report patient improvement from the care.

Doctors still do not know what is causing the illness and said right now, no vaping is safe.

In the study, 80% of patients had vaped THC and nicotine while 20% reported vaping nicotine only.

“The best way to prevent both e-cigarette or vaping lung injury and its complications and the risk of relapse is to not to vape at this point anything. There is nothing that has been shown to be safe to vape,” Blagev said.

“We’re still seeing ongoing cases. It’s continuing every week, we’re reporting more cases to the department of health,” Harris said.

Nationally, there have been 2,051 cases and 39 deaths caused by vaping-associated lung illness; in Utah, 109 cases have been confirmed while another seven are under investigation as of Oct. 28.

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