The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health released new guidance on Friday for clinicians to evaluate and treat patients they suspect might have lung injury related to using e-cigarettes.
The CDC's interim guidance is an update to prior recommendations from August related to addressing vaping-related illness.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, said the updated guidelines incorporate more data than was collected for the August recommendations since the number of illnesses have spiked in the last couple of months.
"I can't stress enough the seriousness ... associated with the use of e-cigarette or vaping products," Schuchat said on a call with reporters held Friday. "This is a critical issue and even while we learn more, we need to take steps to prevent additional cases."
The new guidance informs clinicians on managing suspected lung-injury patients throughout their course of care.
The guidelines recommend clinicians consult with intensive care specialists early about managing possible respiratory failure since some patients with mild symptoms saw their illness worsen rapidly within 48 hours of initial diagnosis.
Of the 1,002 cases reported to the CDC as of Oct. 8, 96% of patients were hospitalized. Approximately 47% of 342 patients were admitted to an intensive care unit and 22% of 338 patients required mechanical ventilation. Schuchat said the National Center for Healthcare Statistics was currently working developing an ICD-10 code for the illness so that cases can be systematically linked.
The illnesses have not been tied to a specific cause despite indications that it could be related to the use of vaping products containing THC. But Schuchat warned that there be more than one cause and more than one source.
Signs indicate there has been no drop-off in cases despite recent calls for the public to stop using e-cigarettes until more was known about the cause of the illnesses.
More than 1,200 lung injury cases have occurred across 49 states as of Oct. 8, according to the latest CDC figures. A total of 26 deaths have been confirmed in 21 states.
According to the report, 95% of patients diagnosed with lung injury related to vaping experience initial symptoms that included cough, chest pain and shortness of breath, while 77% had abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea that was accompanied with fever, chills and weight loss.
Schuchat said having the guidelines now becomes especially important as the country faces the beginning of the influenza season where many of the symptoms associated with the flu are similar to the vaping-related illnesses. The guidelines recommend clinicians ask any patients with related symptoms if they use e-cigarettes.