State health officials order reporting of potential vaping-related illnesses

Photo Courtesy Pixabay

By Anastasia Lennon
BU News Service

BOSTON — The Department of Public Health announced a new mandate on Wednesday requiring all Massachusetts physicians to report any possible vaping-related illnesses to the department for the next 12 months. 

Cases of pulmonary diseases related to use of e-cigarettes will now join measles and rabies on the list of diseases the state currently monitors. Previously, the department asked physicians to voluntarily flag cases of vaping-related illness.

“We need to fully understand the magnitude of this newly recognized illness in Massachusetts,” said Monica Bharel, chair of the Public Health Council and DPH commissioner. “[The mandate] will help us better understand what steps to take next.” 

The last time the department issued a mandate was two years ago regarding amnesia associated with intravenous drug use. A news release from the department states that such an action is not rare, but it is not routine. 

As part of this action, all Massachusetts clinicians received a letter that defined cases of vaping-related lung disease. Symptoms will be unexplained and progressive, and include shortness of breath, cough, fatigue and chest pain. 

If a clinician suspects the illness may be vaping-related, the clinician must fill out an online case report or fax it to the department’s confidential line. The information collected by the department will then be sent to the CDC, thereby creating a more complete picture of the case count across the country. 

This announcement follows numerous reports of fatalities across the nation as a result of vaping-related lung disease. There have been no fatalities reported in Massachusetts, and thus far the CDC has not identified a single product as the cause. 

The Public Health Council has discussed vaping at previous meetings, particularly with regards to use by Massachusetts youth. 

According to the state’s most recent survey of secondary school students, which was conducted with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 20% of high school students use a vaping device. Another 41% reported using an electronic vapor product at least once. 

The 2017 survey identified tobacco and electronic cigarette use as a statistically unchanged area of concern since the 2015 survey. 

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