Children’s Hospital reports first possible respiratory illness caused by vaping in East Tennessee


KNOXVILLE,Tenn. (WATE)- Doctors at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital confirmed they recently had a patient with a severe respiratory illness, possibly caused by vaping.

Dr. Joe Childs, the Chief Medical Officer of ETCH, said the teenaged patient showed the same symptoms that the CDC warned of.

“Bilateral pneumonia, difficulty breathing, significant oxygen need, fever, weight loss, a lot of systemic symptoms. Really sick,” Childs said.

The CDC recently reported that they were investigating 153 cases in 16 states, but at the time of the report, Tennessee wasn’t listed.

Childs said identifying if the respiratory illness was caused by vaping is difficult. In his 31 years working in the pediatric intensive care unit, he’d never seen anything like this before.

“Normally with kids like that, especially in the teenage year, we find the cause for it when they present like that and in our case, no cause was found,” Childs said.

He explained that typically, an infection or bacteria causes such life-threatening cases.

In order to determine if the patient’s symptoms were caused by vaping, Childs said doctors have to rule out every other possible option.

“It is really rare for us to see teenagers come in with this kind of illness that we don’t find ‘oh,well they have this infection or this infection.’ This is a new thing,” Childs said.

Unlike cigarettes, which are known to cause more serious health problems later in life, Childs said vaping seems to affect the body sooner and drastically.

Patients would most likely show symptoms such as weight loss or fatigue, but it might not be serious enough to go to the emergency room.

“Some of these patients have lost a fair amount of weight by the time they get to the hospital, but they’re likely continuing to vape. So they’ve gotten sick and they’re getting sicker,” Childs said.

Childs also said the road to recovery isn’t easy. It’s long and painful.

The patient at ETCH stayed for a week before being stable enough to transfer to a hospital in their home state.

Childs said he wasn’t sure if the patient had been released from the other hospital since the transfer.

One 17-year-old in Texas was at Cook Children’s Medical Center for 18 days, and spent some of that time in a coma with a machine to help him breathe.

Childs said the side effects of vaping hasn’t been studied enough to know how they affect the body.

“I think we’ll learn, as we’re putting together the common factors of all these cases around the country, what those factors are like in terms of time, how much vaping, what was in the product that they were vaping, what was the device they were using,” Childs said.

He said that the only fact in these cases is that all vaping can be bad.

Childs said parents need to warn their children about the dangers of vaping and show them what is going on around the country.

“When you’re a teenager you feel like you’re invincible. But, this is a dangerous activity and it can knock you down,” he said.

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