3 young people in Houston hospitalized with vaping-related lung illness

At least three young people in Houston have been hospitalized with serious lung illness related to vaping, the Houston Health Department confirms.

Houston health officials say the hospitalizations occurred within the past month and fit the profile of similar cases across the country of "severe pulmonary disease associated with the use of e-cigarette products."

All three of the Houston patients are under the age of 21 and are said to be doing well now. Health officials say at least one person has been released from the hospital, and at least one remains hospitalized.

Dr. David Persee, with the Houston Health Department, says the illness is not an infection and does not respond to antibiotics. Patients are treated with lung support, medication to reduce lung inflammation, and sometimes ventilators, while the body heals.

Dr. Persee says because these cases have only begun to appear across the country in the last six weeks or so, it is unclear what long-term effects patients could experience.

Due to privacy laws, Dr. Persee could not say whether the vaping products the patients used were nicotine-based or THC-based.

Dr. Persee says parents need to speak to their children about vaping and cigarettes.

"Parents, you need to look out for your kids, find out what they're doing. Educate them that this is dangerous. Vaping is not cool. Cigarette smoking is not cool. As a society, we need to stop making it look like it's cool, because it's getting our children to engage in behaviors that could have serious medical consequences for them later on in life," Dr. Persee says.

The Houston Health Department is working with the CDC to determine what is causing these lung injuries.

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Last week, federal health officials recommended that people who vape consider avoiding e-cigarettes while they investigate more cases of a breathing ailment linked to the devices.

While the cause remains unclear, officials said Friday that many reports involve e-cigarette products that contain THC, the mind-altering substance in marijuana.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they are looking at 215 possible cases across 25 states. All the cases involve teens or adults who have used e-cigarettes or other vaping devices. Symptoms of the disease include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.

The CDC and Food and Drug Administration warned the public not to buy vaping products off the street. And officials recommended people concerned about the health risks "consider refraining from using e-cigarette products."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement the government is "using every tool we have to get to the bottom of this deeply concerning outbreak."

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E-cigarettes generally heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable aerosol. The products have been used in the U.S. for more than a decade and are generally considered safer than traditional cigarettes because they don't create all the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco.

But some vaping products have been found to contain other potentially harmful substances, including flavoring chemicals and oils used for vaping marijuana, experts say.

The mysterious illness underscores the complicated nature of the vaping market, which includes both government-regulated nicotine products and THC-based vape pens, which are considered illegal under federal law.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana for recreational use. THC-based products in these regulated markets are generally inspected for quality and safety, but there is a largely unregulated gray market.

On Thursday, top health officials in the Trump administration reiterated warnings against marijuana use by adolescents and pregnant women, emphasizing the increasing potency of the drug.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.