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Doctor Q&A: What You Need To Know About Vaping-Related Illnesses

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 380 cases of vaping-related illnesses are confirmed in 36 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

As of September 11, 2019, six deaths have also been reported.

Some of the patients are from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Most reported using vape products that contained THC, many said they used products that contained THC and nicotine, and some reported using products that only contained nicotine, the CDC says.

MORE: Vaping Facts Versus Fiction: Nicotine, THC And The New Mystery Illness

Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever or abdominal pain.

The CDC, along with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, are urging people to stop vaping as the investigation continues.

Dr. John J. Villa, a pulmonologist at Hackensack University Medical Center, spoke with CBSN New York about the mystery surrounding what could be causing these illnesses.

Below is a transcript of the interview. Note: Questions have been paraphrased, but responses are verbatim.

Is this an emergency health crisis?

"Yes, I think this is an epidemic we're facing right now, and we don't have enough information."

What do you think about Govs. Cuomo and Murphy saying people shouldn't vape?

"I think our policy makers should help us, from a public health point of view, to make regulations to prevent our children today from using this product."

Is vaping better than smoking a cigarette?

"It may be better, however, there are many chemicals, metals in these e-cigarettes, which may be harmful to the lung, causing acute lung injury."

Is vape smoke the same as cigarette smoke?

"There are less toxins and chemicals, potentially, in an e-cigarette. However, being absorbed directly into the lung could cause heart problems, lung problems or brain problems."

Are these lung illnesses similar to pneumonia?

"It's probably more of a pneumonitis, an inflammation in the lung. Pneumonia suggests infection. As far as we know, this is not an infection. We think this is an inflammation in the lung. So far, the reports suggest many different types of inflammation. So it's not clear – Is it one product or numerous chemicals in products causing this? It's not clear yet."

Do we know whether the problem is with the chemicals or with the way they're inhaled?

"It's potentially both. Remember, an e-cigarette has heat, it has chemicals, it may have metals, it has nicotine. So all these are being absorbed by the lung, and it's not what the lung is designed for."

What is in flavored e-juice?

"There's many volatile organic chemicals. These things are very irritating to the lung, and the lung see that as a foreign substance. So it causes inflammation… They feel that most e-cigarettes do have nicotine in them. Even e-cigarette that have been denoted 'have a no nicotine' have been shown to have nicotine."

Is vaping THC more extreme than smoking a joint?

"It's not clear yet. All this data is very new. A lot of these syndromes came out this summer that we started noticing it. The syndromes we saw from Wisconsin, Illinois – a high percentage were using THC. Again, but they don't know what was in the product."

Is it safe to get THC vape products from a licensed dispensary?

"I think right now they should avoid smoking it - or vaping it – until we further understand it."

How long will the investigation and recommendations take?

"We need more research. It's still – you said the numbers before – the numbers are still low but staggering increasing very fast."

What more can be done, in terms of research and resources?

"Obviously, we have to let the researchers do what they do best. Obviously, we need the allocation of funds to do it. We have to let, at least with the THC question, let the schools do the research on it. It's very federally controlled what can be done on these products."

What are the symptoms and side effects?

"Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, they also get GI symptoms – nausea, vomit, abdominal pain – they could get weight loss, fevers, fatigue. And it could develop over a couple of weeks."

Click here for more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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