The vulnerabilities of age: burns in children and older adults

Palmer Q Bessey, Raymond R Arons, Charles J Dimaggio, Roger W Yurt
Surgery 2006, 140 (4): 705-15; discussion 715-7

BACKGROUND: Both children and older adults are thought to sustain burns serious enough to warrant hospitalization disproportionately more often than other age groups, but the incidence, injury characteristics, and outcome have not been precisely defined.

METHODS: Patients hospitalized with a burn diagnosis were identified from hospital discharge data from California, Florida, New Jersey, and New York for the 5-year period 2000-2004.

RESULTS: In those states, 60,024 residents were hospitalized with a diagnosis of burn and/or inhalation injury according to the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, Clinical Modification diagnosis codes. Using population data from the United States Census 2000, we found that the average annual incidence of hospitalization with a burn diagnosis in these 4 states was 155 per million (per M) (95% confidence interval,153-158). There were 13,453 children under 15 years of age: incidence, 163 per M (range, 157-169). Of these 9508 (70%) were under 5 years of age: incidence, 363 per M (range, 347-379). In contrast, there were 10,686 patients 65 years of age or older: incidence, 214 per M (range, 205-224), of whom 2091 were at least 85 years old: incidence, 347 per M (range, 314-380). The incidence of hospitalization with a burn diagnosis for patients 15 to 64 years of age was 141 per M (range, 138-145). Compared with children younger than 15 years, patients aged 65 years and older more often had flame burns (odds ratio [OR], 2.12), burns of 20% or more of body surface area (OR, 2.41), inhalation injury (OR, 2.88), respiratory failure (OR, 4.48), and death (OR, 16.53), all P < .0001.

CONCLUSIONS: Older individuals are the most vulnerable to the morbidity and mortality of burn injury. Prevention strategies targeted to those older than 65 years should be developed.

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