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County announces first vaping death

County announces first vaping death

Three people in Tulare County, nine in Kings County hospitalized for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome after vaping unregulated cannabis or CBD oil

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Public health officials don’t know what the long-term effects of vaping are, but they do know that it can be fatal in some cases.

On Sept. 16, the Tulare County Health Branch issued a statement regarding the death of a Tulare County resident who died from complications related to the use e-cigarettes, also known as vaping. 

Leopoldo Barraza
19 years old

The condition even has a new name – vape associated pulmonary injury (VAPI) and symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, nausea, fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.

“With sadness, we report that there has been a death of a Tulare County resident suspected to be related to severe pulmonary injury associated with vaping,” said Dr. Karen Haught, Tulare County Public Health Officer.  “The Tulare County Public Health Branch would like to warn all residents that any use of e-cigarettes poses a possible risk to the health of the lungs and can potentially cause severe lung injury that may even lead to death. Long-term effects of vaping on health are unknown. Anyone considering vaping should be aware of the serious potential risk associated with vaping.” 

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that individuals use to inhale an aerosol, which can contain nicotine (though not always), flavorings, and other chemicals. They can either use a tank or cartridge to hold the liquid and can resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, or may look very different, such as those that resemble USB memory sticks.

Daisy Carrillo
21 years old

The death comes a month after Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) issued a public health warning that vaping cannabis could increase your risk of Acute Respiratory Distress could increase your risk of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, or ARDS, a severe pulmonary condition which produces flu-like symptoms and can rapidly escalate. 

Tammie Weyker-Adkins, spokesperson for Tulare County HHSA, said there have been three cases in Tulare County directly related to vaping unregulated cannabis or CBD oil from unlicensed cannabis retailers. Two of the Tulare County residents were treated locally and the third was treated in Kings County. 

On Sept. 11, the Visalia Police Department arrested a couple selling unlicensed vaping pens, cannabis, complete with “Higher Supplies” labels, out of their home in the 1600 block of N. Comstock. Officers with the department’s anti-gang unit found the illegal business during a search of probationer Leopoldo Barraza’s home. The 19-year-old Barraza and Daisy Carrillo, 21, were arrested for possession of cannabis for sales and conspiracy as well as a probation violation for Barraza. 

The Tulare County cases are part of a recent spike in Kings, Fresno, and Tulare Counties of individuals being admitted to hospitals with ARDS. Many of the cases seem to be connected to vaping cannabis or CBD oils and are being investigated by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in Kings County where health officials have reported nine cases of ARDS since June. CDPH has identified 65 potential cases of acute lung disease across the state among people with a recent history of vaping, some of whom vaped unlicensed or unregulated cannabis products, beginning in late June.

Proposition 64 in 2016, the Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act of 2016, created controls for the production and sale of cannabis to protect public health and safety by ensuring that products are manufactured in a licensed facility, produced safely, and are properly packaged and labeled. All cannabis products sold by licensed retailers must be compliant with state testing standards to ensure they do not contain contaminants.

Cannabis products sold by licensed retailers must comply with strict state testing standards to ensure that they are produced safely, properly packaged and labeled, and have not been tampered with. Do not vape cannabis products purchased from unlicensed retailers.

The names and types of vaping materials and devices are still under investigation. CDPH is working with local health departments, affected states, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to share information about cases and the potential sources of exposure. 

If you plan on using cannabis or CBD oil, or a combination of both, only purchase from a reputable distributor who is licensed. Under no circumstances should you vape cannabis or CBD oils from a “pop-up-shop”. 

“These products should be discarded,” states the CDPH on its website. “Products sold by unlicensed cannabis retailers, such as street vendors or pop-up shops, are not tested as required by state law and could potentially contain harmful contaminants. Consumers can verify the legal status of a cannabis business by visiting the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s Online License.”

ARDS is a buildup of fluid in the tiny air sacs in your lungs called alveoli. This means your lungs deliver less oxygen to your organs, which is very dangerous. The fluid that leaks into the lungs makes it very difficult to breathe and leads to low oxygen in the blood, or hypoxemia. When the body can’t carry out the work of breathing and has low oxygen levels, it causes respiratory failure. In order to improve the amount of oxygen and reduce the work of breathing, most ARDS patients will be placed on a ventilator to support them while the lungs heal. If the inflammation and fluid in the lung(s) persist, some patients will go on to develop scarring in the lungs or worse the lung can “pop” and deflate, leading to a collapsed lung.

There are about 200,000 cases of ARDS each year in the United States, but most people who get ARDS are already in the hospital in critical condition from some other health complication or trauma. 

“ARDS is a very serious disease and even with the best medical care between 30 and 50 percent of those diagnosed with ARDS die of it,” according the American Lung Association. “Those surviving the disease will often have long hospital stays.” 

One of the biggest problems with this disease is that many patients develop additional complications while they are in the intensive care unit (ICU). Some of these complications include pneumonia, collapsed lungs, other infections, severe muscle weakness, confusion, and kidney failure. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of ARDS, seek medical treatment. 

CDPH also reminded the public that the long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown. For more information on cannabis or vaping uses go to: bit.do/letstalkcannabis or www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basicinformation/e-cigarettes/about-e-cigarettes.html

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