PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With reports of vaping-related illnesses – both confirmed and probable – on the rise nationwide, Eyewitness News wanted to see how the Rhode Island Department of Health handled possible cases.
In neighboring Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health has reported five confirmed and five probable cases. To date, 83 suspected vaping-related pulmonary cases have been reported since Sept. 11, but none have been reported in Rhode Island.
With close proximity to Massachusetts, Eyewitness News asked the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) if this was unusual.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for RIDOH, said an obvious explanation for the disparity is the size difference between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Additionally, Wendelken said the states are reporting different kinds of numbers.
To date, Rhode Island is not issuing the number of reports and is instead sticking to confirmed cases because of the uncertainty surrounding this illness cluster, according to Wendelken.
“For clarity’s sake, so we don’t have to update information about cases that may or may not ultimately confirmed, we stick to our approach of reporting confirmed cases,” Wendelken said.
Wendelken said the health department has outlined what symptoms are, and how healthcare providers should report cases.
“If we get a reported case, we do some outreach. We have healthcare providers here, who do some of that follow-up with patients to learn a little bit more about their patient history,” Wendelken said.
Then, a determination would be made about if it should be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be included in its case count.
“CDC is continuing to look into this issue. They have reported that in many of the cases that have been confirmed across the country, THC appears to be involved,” Wendelken said.
Still, neighboring Massachusetts’s Department of Public Health is reporting numbers for confirmed, probable and suspected cases.
“The CDC really doesn’t know yet definitively what is causing these cases. So, it’s really hard at this point to pinpoint why some states are seeing more cases and some states are seeing fewer cases,” Wendelken said.
The agency reports about 77% of e-cigarette users with reported lung injuries said they used “THC-containing products.”
“However, they still have not identified a single substance of a single common factor that ties all the cases together,” Wendelken said.
In the meantime, both Massachusetts and Rhode Island’s health departments are tasked with enforcing different statewide bans on vaping products.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a sweeping, temporary ban on the sale of all vape products, citing the risk of pulmonary disease.
One day later, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo announced a more limited ban on the sale of flavored vape products.
Data from the CDC shows 805 lung injury cases were reported from 46 states and one U.S. territory, as well as 12 confirmed deaths in 10 states.