Guilford County, we have a potential emergency on the horizon.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is investigating recent reports of severe lung disease after vaping. Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.

At least three patients have been hospitalized in North Carolina since late July and similar cases have been reported from other states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, California and Minnesota.

The fact that our state has only three documented cases of hospitalizations right now might seem as if this situation is minor, but it is not!

Although many cases will surely not reach a point of hospitalization, the number of cases is expected to grow. Guilford County Health officials are confident that there is probably more illness from vaping than is documented officially.

Vaping devices include not just e-cigarettes, but also vape pens and other product-heating devices; these days, the market is growing extremely fast, making it hard to keep up with the latest products.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued warnings to medical institutions and to the general public that symptoms may be similar to pneumonia, and the severity of the disease has varied among patients, “with some requiring treatment in the intensive care unit and assistance to breathe.”

Symptoms reported from patients also include shortness of breath, coughing and nausea or vomiting.

The exact cause of these illnesses is being studied, and much focus is being placed on patients who reported using e-cigarettes or vaping devices in the weeks before their illness began.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is coordinating with North Carolina Poison Control, other states, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate.

Guilford County public health officials encourage all local residents to avoid vaping products and e-cigarettes at least while the causes of the recently reported cases are still under investigation. Many vape products reported include nicotine, marijuana, THC or a combination of these substances.

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The writer is director of the Guilford County Public Health Department.

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