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U.S. Report: Injuries Kill 18 People an Hour

CDC study finds problem widespread and across all age groups

THURSDAY, Sept. 2, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Eighteen people an hour die because of injuries in the United States, according to the first government report of its kind.

The finding translated into 157,000 people in 2001, with no age group, gender or race exempt.

The first national report for both fatal and nonfatal injuries, released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also found an estimated one in six U.S. residents requires medical treatment for an injury, while one in 10 visits a hospital emergency room for such an injury.

And the medical care for those injuries costs an estimated $117 billion annually.

"Trauma is the number one killer of people aged 1 to 40 in this country. People don't realize it," said Dr. Maurizio Miglietta, director of trauma and critical care at New York University School of Medicine. "Trauma is not in the limelight, so it doesn't get the same resources. That's why it's underestmated."

One of the main authors of the report couldn't agree more.

"When you look at all this together, it really does emphasize just how extensive the problem is," said Lee Annest, lead statistician for the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "The CDC needs to really address prevention, and people need to become more aware of what they can do to address injuries."

The report, which looked only at data for 2001, found that unintentional injury is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, with traumatic brain injuries leading the pack.

But deaths are just a small part of the picture, Annest said.

"Deaths only amount to one-half of 1 percent of all injuries severe enough to be treated in the emergency department," Annest said. "When we put the two [fatal and nonfatal] together, we can see a more broad spectrum of injuries. Everyone's life is impacted by injury."

About one-third of all people treated in emergency rooms are there because of an injury. In 2001, almost 30 million people were treated for nonfatal injuries in hospital emergency rooms, while 1.6 million were hospitalized or transferred for specialized medical care.

Both fatal and nonfatal injuries were more common in males than in females and in younger people than in older persons.

And 36 percent of all traumatic brain injury victims are children aged 14 and younger.

Motor-vehicle crashes represented the leading cause of death from injuries (almost 33,400 occupant deaths). They also accounted for more than 2.9 million nonfatal occupant injuries treated in emergency departments. Male occupants of a vehicle were almost twice as likely to die as females. The mortality rate was highest for those aged 15 to 24.

Unintentional falls were the No. 1 nonfatal injury treated in emergency rooms, with 7.8 million cases. Falls also accounted for 15,000 deaths. Females were more likely to fall than males; people aged 75 and over were more than five times as likely to die from falls than any other age group.

Falls are preventable, said Ken Giles, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Bathtubs and showers should be slip-resistant (as most are today) and bathrooms should have grab bars, he recommended. Stairs should have handrails on both sides and a light switch at both the top and the bottom. And patterned rugs should be avoided because they make it difficult to see the edge of a step.

Violence-related injuries also figured prominently in the report. There were almost 21,000 homicides and 31,000 suicides in 2001. Almost 1.8 million people were assaulted. Men aged 20 to 24 had the highest homicide rate and the highest nonfatal assault rate.

More small children (aged 1 to 4) died from drowning than from motor-vehicle crashes.

Pools must be surrounded on four sides by barriers, according to Giles. If the house is one of those sides, the doors should have an alarm. Gates should be self-closing and self-latching. The pool itself should have an alarm activated by a motion sensor and should be covered when the pool is not in use.

Also, babies should never be left unattended near a body of water in the house, he added. That includes bathtubs, toilets or buckets of water.

"Don't answer the doorbell. Don't answer the phone. Don't go get a towel," Giles said. Where toddlers are present, he also advocated seat locks for the toilets.

For persons aged 15 to 24, poisoning accounted for 63 percent of nonfatal self-harm injuries treated in emergency rooms, the report found.

"Many people accept that injuries are inevitable. We know they can be prevented," said CDC spokeswoman Gail Hayes. "We know about the importance of seat belts and child safety seats; smoke alarms are effective and can save lives. We know we can prevent falls in older adults through exercise programs that include balance training or vision correction."

"These injuries are largely preventable. Things like wearing a seat belt has drastically cut down deaths from motor vehicle accidents," Miglietta said. "We can have an impact on these preventable deaths certainly."

More information

View the full report at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Maurizio Miglietta, D.O., director, trauma and surgical critical care, and assistant professor, surgery, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Lee Annest, Ph.D., director, Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Gail Hayes, spokeswoman, CDC Injury Center, Atlanta; Ken Giles, spokesman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Bethesda, Md.; Sept. 2, 2004, CDC report, Surveillance for Fatal and Nonfatal Injuries -- United States, 2001
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