Possible Canadian cases of vaping illnesses being investigated: health officer

REGINA — Canada's chief public health officer says at least three reports of potential vaping-related illnesses are being investigated, but she doesn't consider any to be confirmed.

Theresa Tam says one of the cases comes from London, Ont., where a teen who used e-cigarettes daily suffered a severe case of pulmonary illness.

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Officials with the Middlesex-London Health Unit say the youth was initially on life support in an intensive care unit, but was sent home to recover.

They have been unable to conclusively say the respiratory ailment was the result of vaping, but the health unit's medical officer said there was no other identifiable cause.

"I'm also aware of … a couple of additional incidences under investigation that we are aware of through the Health Canada Consumer Product Safety reporting system," Tam said Friday.

Tam wouldn't divulge the health status of the individuals, their ages, or where they're from.

Some of the cases date back to 2018 "so they're not necessarily recent," but investigations into them are new.

Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada is concerned about the report from Ontario and the more than 500 cases — including seven deaths — that have been recorded in the United States.

She has contacted all provincial and territorial chief medical health offices to provide guidance in terms of investigations and definitions for a confirmed or probable case.

She wouldn't comment on how many people may be under investigation at a local level, but expects cases that have been fully reviewed to be reported to the national agency.

A statement from British Columbia's provincial health officer said there is no known case there and no investigations are underway.

"I do however expect that as awareness increases, it is likely that cases in Canada and B.C. will be identified," said Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter said there's no record of pulmonary illnesses associated with vaping in Saskatchewan, but he's asked health officials to monitor all potential cases in hospital intensive care units.

The province's chief health official has also told hospitals to report to local medical health officers all cases of non-infectious severe respiratory disease possibly due to vaping.

"Ultimately, in Canada, we want all such cases to be reported to the chief public health officer of Canada," Saskatchewan chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said Friday.

"Are we seeing, in Canada, potentially going forwards, what the U.S. has been seeing over the past 30 days?" Shahab asked.

"These are, for the most part, people who are otherwise young, healthy, with no pre-existing heart or lung disease, who develop severe respiratory infection, get very ill and, unfortunately in some cases, die," said Shahab.

He said U.S. public health officials learned that those who fell sick had vaped within the last 90 days. In many cases, they had done so on a daily basis and used products that were not regulated, such as vaping pods with added substances such as cannabis.

The president of the Canadian Medical Association recently said youth vaping has become a public health crisis.

Reiter said in a statement that he's worried about how popular vaping is among young people and he'd like parents to warn their children about the risks.

Shahab said the province is proposing changes for the fall that would see vaping products treated the same way as tobacco, including not displaying them in retail stores and restricting sales to minors.

"I think that will be really important to address the overall trend of youth vaping."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 20, 2019.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story; a previous version had Health Canada instead of the Public Health Agency of Canada

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