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Bullet Wounds Kill 8 Percent of U.S. Kids Treated at ERs

Bullet Wounds Kill 8 Percent of U.S. Kids Treated at ERs

MONDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- A new study confirms the high danger posed by gunshot wounds in kids: Hospital statistics from several U.S. urban areas reveal that at least 8 percent of children who were shot died.

Gunshot wounds in kids caused a higher level of serious injury and death than any other cause, even car accidents.

Although the findings aren't surprising, they do reveal the true cost of gunshot injuries in kids, said study author Dr. Craig Newgard, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, in Portland.

"Looking broadly at injury-related issues in children, we can say that gunshot-related wounds are not common," he said. "But at the same time, there are major adverse outcomes related to them."

In addition to the severity of the body damage they cause, gunshot wounds are also the most likely of injuries in kids to require blood transfusions and major surgery, Newgard said. The cost of emergency care per patient for gunshot wounds -- an average of more than $28,500, according to the study -- is also much higher than any other kind of injury.

Why try to understand how gunshot injuries affect kids? Newgard said the point of the study is to fill gaps in research regarding violence, especially in light of recent tragedies. "We want to try to provide policy makers more objective information about what's really happening with children and firearms," he said.

The researchers examined details about emergency-room visits by nearly 50,000 injured children to 93 hospitals from 2006 to 2008. The hospitals were in Oregon, California and Colorado.

Gunshot injuries were rare, accounting for 1 percent of all injuries. Of the injuries, more than 80 percent were in teenagers aged 15 to 19, and 85 percent were in males. (By comparison, 59 percent of other types of injuries were in males.)

The researchers found that 23 percent of gunshot injuries were serious, 32 percent required major surgery and 8 percent of patients died at the hospital.

By comparison, 1 percent of children who were hit by cars died at the hospital, and 2 percent of those who were stabbed or suffered similar injuries died.

The study didn't disclose the rates of injuries by geographic area. "Our partners in each of the cities didn't want to have their specific city labeled as the safest or most dangerous," Newgard said.

As for trends over time, the researchers didn't look at a long enough period of time to determine whether there were changes in the numbers of gunshot wounds, he said.

Dr. Michael Nance, director of the pediatric trauma program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is familiar with the findings and pointed to another statistic in the study: 20 percent of all deaths in the kids due to injury were caused by gunshot wounds. "I would consider that consequential," he said. "These injuries are devastating."

He cautioned, however, that the numbers don't disclose the impact of gunshot wounds nationwide because they only look at a few regions. The numbers also are limited because they look only at emergency-room visits connected to 911 calls, not children who are shot and brought to the hospital in private vehicles.

As for the major message of the research, Nance said the study "highlights the ongoing risk to children from firearms."

The study appears online Oct. 14 and in the November print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

More information

For details about teens and violence, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Craig Newgard, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, emergency medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland; Michael Nance, M.D., professor, surgery, and director, pediatric trauma program, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Oct. 14, 2013, Pediatrics, online

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