Utah health officials now have confirmed 28 severe illnesses related to vaping

FILE - In this Aug.14, 2014, file photo, a man exhales vapor as he demonstrates the use of his electronic cigarette, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Utah officials have confirmed 28 severe vaping-related illnesses associated with an ongoing national outbreak and are investigating an additional 14 cases, the state health department said Tuesday.

But the exact cause of the illnesses remains unclear.

“The one consistent thing that we have," said Angela Dunn, the Utah state epidemiologist, "is that all of our cases have reported vaping.”

The Utah patients have reported vaping nicotine, THC products or both, Dunn said in a news conference Tuesday at the Utah Department of Health headquarters. Most of the patients are under age 30, she said, though she noted that is the common demographic for people using e-cigarettes.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Angela Dunn, State Epidemiologist at Utah Department of Health, gives an update on the vaping illness cases in Utah. Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.

Dunn said there appeared to be few other commonalities. The patients consumed products made from a variety of manufacturers smoked through a variety of electronic devices, she said.

THC vaping products are illegal in Utah. Dunn said patients who reported using those either bought the products in another state or bought them “on the street” in Utah. It was unclear, she said, whether those unregulated purchases were for products that would be legitimate in other states or were made illicitly.

No deaths have been reported in Utah, Dunn said, nor were any deaths suspected as of Monday.

As of last week, 215 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with the use of electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, products had been reported by 25 states, and additional pulmonary illnesses were under investigation. Doctors attributed one death in Illinois to vaping.

Utah initially reported fives cases in mid-August. That number stood at 21 last week.

Dunn said public health workers have been interviewing patients and collecting samples of vaping juice from affected patients for testing. Results aren’t available yet.

“We don’t have something that we’re actually testing for,” Dunn said, "and so it takes a while to run the samples though a variety of tests.”

Before experiencing respiratory distress, patients have reported initially mild symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain; many also have experienced gastrointestinal problems, including nausea and diarrhea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Doctors in Utah have encountered multiple cases of lipoid pneumonia in vaping patients, where fat deposits, possibly from oil in vaping juice, have been found in microscopic air sacs in the lungs.

Patients who believe they have been sickened since June because of vaping may call the Utah Department of Health Bureau of Epidemiology at 801-538-6191.