Vaping: The Hidden Danger in Plain Sight

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These days, it's hard to go anywhere without encountering someone using a vaping device.
Often called "e-cigs," "jules," "vapes," "vape pens," or "ENDS" (electronic nicotine delivery systems), these battery-operated devices deliver nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals in the form of an aerosol that users inhale.
While vaping devices may look harmless—some are even designed to look like everyday objects, including pens, USB drives, watches, and markers—the risk they pose is very real and especially dangerous for youth.
Danger in disguise
According to Dare Chammings, director of the Alliance for Community Transformations (ACT) in Bennington, "Vape products are very deceiving. Teens get drawn in by the cool factor of vape tech, and vape juice comes in flavors including cotton candy, cake, and fruit. But what we've found is that over 50 percent of teens don't realize that e-cigarettes contain nicotine."
Given this lack of understanding, Chammings says, "It's important for parents and other caring adults to lean on local prevention programs, school counselors, and even online resources to educate themselves and, in turn, their teen."
Vape facts
While vaping isn't good at any age, it poses a particular risk for teens with developing brains. Research shows that when added to a developing brain, nicotine can reduce impulse control, contribute to mood disorders, and negatively affect attention, planning, and decision-making abilities. It also impacts the heart by increasing blood pressure and causing palpitations and sweating.
In addition, aerosol found in vape products contains potentially harmful chemicals. These include flavoring like diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds like benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals like nickel, tin, and lead, all of which are drawn into the lungs when using a vape.
Not surprisingly, vape-related injuries are common. In some cases, users develop permanent scarring of tiny air sacs in the lungs—called "popcorn lung"—an irreversible condition that leads to frequent coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Talking to your teen about vaping
While conversations with teens often include eye rolling and sighing, the truth is they do listen to and care about what their parents think.
"The most important thing," says Alice Abraham of the Collaborative, based in Londonderry and serving Bennington County, is to have the conversation. There are a lot of misperceptions out there about vaping. Talking to your kids is the best way to ensure they know the facts."
Abraham suggests parents keep conversations casual. She says, "Seize everyday moments, like car rides to music lessons or sports practices. Ask open-ended questions and listen carefully before responding. Ask what they think is in the vaping devices. A lot of teens are under the impression that vaping is an appetite suppressant and can boost their mood and energy levels. Neither is true."
She encourages caring adults to share facts that might get kids to think twice about vaping. "Try pointing out that big tobacco is targeting them with flavors. Or, that many of the devices are high in poisonous metals that can harm their developing brains. You want them to appreciate that vaping does actual harm to their bodies and that harm may be permanent."
Abraham also notes that talking about vaping is isn't a one-and-done kind of thing. "The devices and marketing keep evolving. When you see a window to naturally bring up the topic, you should seize it."
The following organizations offer information and advice that can help parents navigate talking to teens about vaping and offer help for quitting.
802Quits Support and Classes |
FreshStart Online Workshop | Confidential Texting with an Online Coach Age Specific Information
Alliance for Community Transformations (ACT)
Deerfield Valley Community Partnership
Londonderry (covering Bennington County)
The Collaborative
North Adams
Northern Berkshire Community Coalition

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SVMC: Update on Monkeypox

By Dr. Marie GeorgeGuest Column

BENNINGTON, Vt. -- At the beginning of June, when the first cases of monkeypox were being reported in the United States, I wrote an article about the top 10 things to know

While much of the information I shared before is still relevant, cases in the United States are now in the thousands, rather than the hundreds. The infection reached Vermont last week. And this week, the United States declared it a health emergency, which will open access to resources to help quell the spread. It's time for an update. Here's what you need to know now.

What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a virus similar to smallpox, only much less severe. While it is a serious health issue, it is not typically deadly or debilitating long term. It can be more serious for immune-compromised people, those who are pregnant, and children under age 8.

Where did it come from?
Monkeypox is not new. It was discovered in monkeys in 1958 and for the first time in humans in the 1970s. It has been endemic in some African countries since then. Only recently has the virus spread to countries around the world.

How does it spread?
The virus spreads through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, or shared items (such as clothing, bedding, or utensils) that have been contaminated with fluids from sores of a person with monkeypox. Monkeypox virus also spreads during sexual contact with an infected person and may spread between people through respiratory droplets. Scientists are evaluating data to learn more about other ways monkeypox may spread.

Currently, the virus is spreading predominantly among men who have sex with other men. Because it spreads through skin-to-skin contact, droplets, and potentially other ways, it is not considered a sexually transmitted infection.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include flu-like symptoms, swelling of the lymph nodes, and a characteristic blister-like rash on the face and body. Some people also report headache, back pain, muscle aches, or fatigue.

What should I do if I think I might have monkeypox?
If you have an unexplained rash or sores on your skin, call your healthcare provider. Also call your healthcare provider if you have been exposed to someone with monkeypox. If you don't have a healthcare provider or insurance, call 211 to be connected to healthcare services.

What will happen next?
Your healthcare provider will determine if you have monkeypox or if you have been exposed.

  1. Healthy people who are determined to have monkeypox will be asked to isolate from other people and animals until symptoms have resolved and the sores have healed. The virus is self-limiting, which means it resolves on its own, usually within two to four weeks.  
  2. An antiviral medication is available for those who have monkeypox and who are at high risk for a serious case. It comes with serious side effects, so it is not recommended for anyone except those at greatest risk for serious illness.
  3. Those who are exposed but who have no symptoms will be given a two-dose vaccine for smallpox. While monkeypox and smallpox are not the same, the smallpox vaccine has been shown to prevent symptoms in those exposed to monkeypox.
  4. Those 55 and older may have received a smallpox vaccine during vaccination efforts that eradicated the disease and mayaccording to some studies, have partial immunity to monkeypox, though the immunity can be widely variable person to person. One study showed that the smallpox vaccine prevented severe symptoms, but did not prevent symptoms entirely, in those vaccinated years or even decades earlier.

Should I get vaccinated for monkeypox?
Not yet. The state of Vermont and SVMC are working on getting the vaccine to patients who have been exposed, because being vaccinated after an exposure can prevent symptoms. As supply increases, we look forward to providing smallpox vaccines to more people.

Right now, medical professionals locally and statewide are working to develop screening, treatment, and vaccine processes for monkeypox. We hope that this work, federal funding and support, and public awareness will keep this monkeypox outbreak small. We have every expectation that it will.

For more information, visit the Vermont Department of Health website about monkeypox. If you have other questions about monkeypox, email them to wellness@svhealthcare.orgWe will answer them in an upcoming edition of our weekly e-newsletter.

Dr. Marie George is an infectious disease specialist at SVMC Infectious Disease, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington. 

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