Doctor explains differences between flu, other lung-related illnesses

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Health officials confirmed Tennessee’s first vaping-related death on Thursday. The news comes amid reports of severe pulmonary illness outbreaks associated with e-cigarettes nationwide.

RELATED: Minnesota native identified as Tennessee’s first vaping-related death

It also comes at a time when medical experts prepare for another potentially serious illness: The flu.

Well Key Urgent Care’s Dr. Robin Huskey told us with flu season fast approaching, it’s possible doctors could have their hands full this winter.

Instead of just diagnosing someone with the flu, it’s important for them to also consider the potential their patient might have a vaping-related illness. Telling the difference between the two, she said, is not easy.

“The symptoms are very similar – cough, chest tightness, shortness of breath. Even both can have gastrointestinal symptoms,” Dr. Huskey said. “Where they both can have fever, it’s less common in vaping-related illness than it is the flu, but that is still not a perfect science.”

As we near flu season, with cases expected to rise in late October and early November, Dr. Huskey is stressing the importance of recognizing not just the differences between the two illnesses, but more so the similarities. That’s why it’s important she says to tell your doctors the truth if you’re sick.

“We need patients to be honest with us about vaping if they do choose to vape, because if a misdiagnosis occurs because we’re not aware that you vape or you’re dishonest with us when we ask you if you do, if we aren’t treating you appropriately for that vaping-related illness, it can lead to death,” she said.

The two illnesses are unrelated, but ones that can both become very severe, very quickly.

“If you are exhibiting any of these illnesses, you need to get into your physician’s office as soon as possible,” Dr. Huskey said.

Almost 1,500 cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with vaping have been reported. Fifty-three of those are in Tennessee. Nationwide, at least 33 people have died from issues associated with e-cigarettes.

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