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University health doctors make discovery, confirm 13 vaping cases

On Friday, doctors at the University of Utah confirmed they've seen 13 cases of vaping related illness and strongly suspect more. (PHOTO: John Wojcik, KSL Newsradio)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –Doctors at the University of Utah believe they’ve made a breakthrough discovery connected to vaping-related illness.

At a press conference on Friday at University of Utah Hospital, doctors explained their discovery of cell characterization in cases of vaping related illness and provided updated numbers on the growing problem.

Health officials say they’ve found fat-laden cells in patients suffering from a vaping-related respiratory illness.

Large immune cells inside the lungs of patients contain a number of oily droplets, which are called lipid-laden macrophages.

Those lipid-laden macrophages are being classified as a “marker” of vaping-related illness.

“Whether this is a driver of disease or just a representation of the disease itself, either way, this has been helpful for us for identifying patients,” says  Dr. Sean Callahan, University of Utah assistant professor.

Doctors say the discovery is significant because it helps distinguish which patients are suffering a respiratory issue due to vaping from those suffering from something else.

“This can be a difficult disease to diagnose because it shares similarities to pneumonia viral infections and this has been helpful,” said Callahan.

He says many of the symptoms, which include coughing, shortness of breath and low oxygen levels, are extremely similar to someone suffering from classic lipoid pneumonia.

Health officials say the vaping-related illness is worsening.

There are now 13 confirmed cases of vaping-related respiratory illness at University of Utah Hospital.

Doctors theorize there are more strongly suspected cases yet to be diagnosed.

“The fact that we’re seeing lots and lots of these cases, if we don’t call it an epidemic, either way, the number of these cases is really alarming,” he explains.

On Wednesday, there was a sixth confirmed death in the U.S. linked to vaping products and e-cigarette use.

The Utah Department of Health announced Monday the statewide number of suspected vaping-related lung disease in Utah is 35 total cases.