Background: Military burns result from either combat or non-combat causes. We compared these etiologies from patients involved in ongoing conflicts to evaluate their impact and provide prevention recommendations. Methods: All military patients with significant burns treated at the United States Army Institute of Surgical Research from April 2003 to May 2005 were reviewed. Injuries were categorized as having resulted from combat or non-combat causes. Demographics, burn severity and pattern, mortality, and early outcomes were compared. Results: There were 273 burn patients seen with 63% injured in combat. A high early rate of non-combat injuries was noted. Feedback on non-combat burn prevention was provided to the combat theater, and the incidence of non-combat burns decreased. Mean age and time from injury to admission did not differ. The majority of combat injuries resulted from explosive device detonation. Waste burning, ammunition handling, and gasoline caused most non-combat injuries. Combat casualties had more associated and inhalation injuries and greater full-thickness burn size; total body surface area burned was equivalent. The hands and the face were the most frequently burned body areas. Mortality was 5% in combat and 2% in non-combat patients. The majority of survivors in both groups returned to military duty. Conclusions: The disparity in full-thickness burn size and incidence of inhalation and associated injuries resulted from differing mechanisms of injury, with explosions and penetrating trauma more common in combat wounds. Despite the severity of combat burns, mortality was low and outcomes generally good. Non-combat burns are preventable and have decreased in incidence.
- military trauma
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