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Ontario teen lands in ICU in Canada’s first reported case of ‘vape pen illness’

Published on September 18, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
vaping illness

Concern over the potential health effects of vaping has reached a fever pitch in Canada as details of the Ontario youth who was recently hospitalized for a serious lung-related illness start to emerge.

Middlesex-London Health Unit, a public health non-profit based in London, ON, held a press conference addressing the incident this afternoon, revealing that the teen—whose name, gender, age or hometown is not being released for confidentiality purposes—is well and has been released from hospital.

They are believed to be the first person in Canada to be diagnosed with a “severe respiratory illness” caused by vaping.Join the Leafly Canada Community“Late last week, the Middlesex-London Health Unit was notified by the office of the chief medical officer of health in Ontario of a case of severe pulmonary illness,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, medical officer of health and CEO of the Middlesex-London Health Unit. “This case was in a high-school-aged youth and the individual had no other health issues whatsoever.”

The individual was hospitalized for the illness and spent time in the ICU on life support, but has since recovered and returned home.

Information on what kind of product or vape device they were using has not been released, including whether it was THC or nicotine based.

“It’s important to point out that there are limits to the science here,” said Mackie. “Many of the chemicals used in e-cigarettes have not been tested for their health impacts. It’s an unknown cause…we have seen hundreds of cases in the US and some deaths associated with e-cigarettes, but it’s not known how e-cigarettes are causing these health concerns.”

The science on how exactly vaping affects the body is still developing, but a study published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine found oily substances inside of pulmonary disease patients who vape, including in their lung tissue, airways, and even white blood cells.

While this could suggest that vapourized cannabis and nicotine oils are the culprit behind the growing number of lung-related illnesses, more research is needed.

Much of the problem lies in the lack of data. Hospitals and medical practitioners have never been required to investigate or track vape use in patients who are hospitalized with pulmonary issues.

That’s why Mackie believes this patient’s physician deserves commendation.

“I think it’s important to give credit to the local physician who reported this case through the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act reporting system,” said Mackie. “This is somebody who went above and beyond their medical duty and provided information that was crucial to understanding the public health risks of e-cigarettes.”

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Today, however, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health in Ontario, Christine Elliott, responded to the growing epidemic, opening a more direct channel for physicians to report vaping-related cases. Effective immediately, public hospitals across Ontario will be required to provide the Chief Medical Officer of Health with non-identifying patient data related to vaping-suspected pulmonary illnesses.

And with the first case of vaping-related illness in Canada in the books and teen vaping rates still on the rise, that data is very much needed.

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Coleman Molnar
Coleman Molnar
Coleman Molnar is a journalist based in Vancouver, BC.
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