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U of U Health discovers cell characterization in vaping cases

File photo, a man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A breakthrough connected to identifying vaping related illness may have been discovered at University of Utah Health.

Medical personnel at U of U Health say that a certain cell characterization may be indicating which patients are suffering from vaping-related respiratory illness.

Specifically, it’s fat-laden cells that have been found in the lungs of every patient with a confirmed vaping-related illness.

Doctors at the U initially found the cells in their very first vaping patient, a 21-year old man.

“And then when subsequent patients who were vaping came in we found the same cells and quickly made the connection that these might be a distinctive marker of this disease,” explains critical care pulmonologist at University of Utah Health, Dr. Scott Aberegg.

The finding doesn’t necessarily allow doctors to perform preventative measures, but rather it helps them distinguish vaping-related respiratory illness from other various disorders impacting the lungs.

Dr. Aberegg adds this is especially important as we head into flu-season.

“Meaning that if we find them, you’re liable to have vaping-related lung injury,” he explains. “If we don’t find them, it might be evidence that you have something else.”

While the breakthrough is significant, health officials continue to see a troubling trend develop in the number of vaping related cases.

The most recent numbers released on Tuesday point towards 28 confirmed cases of severe lung disease due to vaping in the state.

That’s up from the previous weeks total of 21.

It’s a similar story at U of U Health.

“My running mental tally suggests that just in the last week our total number of strongly suspected cases has doubled,” says Dr. Aberegg.

For context, he says the total number of strongly suspected cases last week was around 6 and has now quickly rose into double digits.