A woman just went viral on TikTok after describing how she got chlamydia in her lungs—not a typo—from a bad vape cartridge.
The video—which is now private, but was reported on first by BuzzFeed—shows TikTok user @germanshepardfanaccount playing the “put a finger down” game while describing her health ordeal. “So, put a finger down if in October you got super, super sick with pneumonia and you tried to tell everybody in your family that you felt like it was something more than that,” she said in the viral video, per BuzzFeed. She reportedly “tried to tell the doctors and the hospitals that it was something more than that,” pointing out that she had a fever for 13 days.
“Nobody believed you, they just kept testing you for COVID, testing you for antibodies, testing you for hepatitis, literally anything—everything was negative,” she said. “Finally, it comes back that you have chlamydia in your lungs from vaping and smoking a bad cart.” (“Cart” in case you’re not familiar with vaping lingo, is “cartridge.”)
She later wrote in the comments that her condition got worse over time because her lungs were “compromised” from vaping. She also said that the bacteria in her lungs “came directly from the cart.”
It sounds wild, but another person in the comments said that it happened to their brother, too. “He was in the ICU for 3 weeks!!” they wrote. “His lungs almost collapsed!!”
But before your mind goes too far in the wrong direction, let’s clear something up: While most people know chlamydia as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), that’s not the case here. See, chlamydia can also cause pneumonia, Reynold Panettieri, MD, pulmonary critical care expert and director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Science at Rutgers University, tells Health. Here’s what you need to know about how (and why) this type of chlamydia can cause pneumonia linked to vaping.
OK, how can chlamydia cause pneumonia?
There are actually three different types of chlamydia that can infect humans: Chlamydia trachomatis (C. trachomatis), Chlamydia pneumoniae (C. pneumoniae), and Chlamydia psittaci (C. psittaci). C. trachomatis is the only type that causes STIs; the other two are linked to pneumonia in humans (though C. psittaci is more often found in birds), per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Essentially, these types of bacteria are “in the same sort of family, but are completely different organisms with different methods of transmission,” Raymond Casciari, MD, a pulmonologist at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., tells Health. On top of that, Dr. Panettieri says that pneumonia caused by either type of chlamydia is “less common” that other types of pneumonia.
C. pneumoniae specifically causes illness by damaging the lining of the respiratory tract, including the throat, windpipe, and lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s possible to have a Chlamydia pneumoniae infection and have mild or moderate symptoms, and it’s also possible to have full-blown pneumonia, Dr. Panettieri says.
How does Chlamydia pneumoniae spread?
C. pneumoniae can be spread through respiratory droplets that are pushed out when an infected person coughs or sneezes. When someone breathes in those infected droplets, they can get sick, the CDC explains. The same is true if you touch something that contains the infected droplets and then touch your nose or mouth.
While close contact with an infected person is usually how the bacteria spreads, it’s also possible to get it from bad vape cartridge, Dr. Cascari says. “The organism can survive in liquid,” he points out. But, he says, it’s also possible to have Chlamydia pneumoniae in your system and vaping can push it even lower into your lungs, where it causes a serious infection.
What are the symptoms of a Chlamydia pneumoniae infection?
Again, the illness can be mild or it can be severe. The CDC lists these as the most common symptoms of the infection:
It can take up to four weeks to develop symptoms after you’ve been infected, and the symptoms usually last for several weeks after they start, the CDC says.
How is a Chlamydia pneumoniae infection treated?
It’s usually treated with antibiotics, Dr. Panettieri says. And, in most cases, people recover fairly easily. While it’s not common, Chlamydia pneumoniae infections can cause a chronic infection that can lead to conditions like asthma and arthritis, the CDC says.
While vaping isn’t the only cause of Chlamydia pneumoniae infections, Dr. Casciari says it doesn’t help: “Vaping increases your likelihood of getting infections—including chlamydia.”
TikTok user @germanshepardfanaccount—who recently changed her username to @whycantany1leavemealone—is one instance of this. In a follow-up video clarifying to her followers that, as explained above, she didn’t have the type of chlamydia that causes STIs, she also revealed that her vaping habit also made recovering from pneumonia more difficult “since [she] had been vaping for over a year prior and [her] lungs were already compromised.”
Overall, the advice she left her followers with: “Don’t vape.”