Vaping-related deaths on the rise, health officials issue warning

The number of deaths related to vaping electronic cigarettes has now climbed to five. And they've all happened over the last two weeks.

Friday afternoon, medical experts announced the latest victim is from California. It is a story that is evolving quickly, and that's one of things that has the medical community concerned.

One Bay Area doctor says the pace of the illnesses and deaths is alarming.

"I think it's a public health crisis point in I think we're saying almost exponential growth in the reporting. I think, within a day, every time I check, there're more reports," said Junaid Khan, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.

Khan is referring to the more than 450 illnesses and five deaths linked to vaping. The cases have been seen in 33 states, and medical officials in Southern California announced a 55-year-old patient is one of the fatalities.

So far, there's no direct link, but officials are getting closer to establishing one.

In some cases, people report using cannabis oils containing THC, the ingredient in marijuana that impairs, but in other cases, people report using only nicotine-based vapes.

Those sick have complained of vomiting, fevers, difficulty breathing, chest pains, and others symptoms.

A Texas teen nearly died, and doctors attributed his illness to vaping. 

"It was these real quick half breaths. I woke up throwing up everywhere. I could feel my heart just pounding out of my chest going super fast," the teen said. 

"I think it's a little more daunting when you see young healthy adults getting this in the prime of their lives at 18, 19, 20-years-old," said Khan.

So far, there's no link to any specific product or manufacturer. But doctors are looking into something called vitamin e acetate - a type of oil used in some products.

"Like with any contaminate, when the body feels something abnormal, it tries to answer it. In that circling process with oils that can lead to lipnoid pneumonia, which is what some of the most serious cases have been," said Khan.

In the vaping cases, the onset of symptoms has been rapid, unlike the gradual effects of regular cigarettes.

Vaping is not new, but reports of the illnesses and deaths are, and right now, medical experts don't know exactly why.

"That's a question the CDC is really wrestling with. Something clearly has changed," said Khan.

Khan says as more people learn about this link between vaping and the connection to people getting sick and dying, the numbers of new cases will likely start to come in even faster.