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Non-Combat Burn Epidemiology Among Active Duty

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, researchers from the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) in San Antonio analyzed non-combat burn epidemiology among active duty service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, using similar civilian burn data as context.

During the Vietnam War, more than half of the evacuated burn casualties were burned outside of combat-related activities. Initial reports from current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed that more than one-third of burn injuries are classified as non-combat.

Between March 2003 and June 2008, the study examined data from burn causalities evacuated to the USAISR, which is the sole U.S. military burn center.

The data was then used to characterize deployed military burn risks in comparison to the risks observed in the U.S. civilian population, to determine which environment was more or less dangerous for unintentional burns. Civilian burn data was extracted from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and statistics published by the American Burn Association.

Of 688 burn causalities admitted to the USAIR during the study, 180 of the cases were considered non-combat. Waste burning, handling ammunition, and fueling generators were some of the major causes of burning incidents for those deployed.

Researchers concluded that the prevalence of non-combat burn injuries in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom was about 20 patients per 100,000 per year, compared to almost seven patients per 100,000 per year for civilians. Therefore, service members are almost three times more likely to suffer unintentional burning than a similar civilian cohort. The increased risk was found to be proportionately mitigated by the specific requirements of their environment.

The most commonly burned body area for service members were the hands, totaling 67 percent of the casualties, significantly more than the civilian burn population. Wearing gloves to protect from burns to the hands and developing other fire safety procedures will potentially reduce the number of non-combat burning incidents in military operations.

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