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Major burns: incidence, treatment and outcomes in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Western Australia

Fiona M Wood, Bess V Fowler, Daniel McAullay and Jocelyn R Jones
Med J Aust 2005; 182 (3): 138.
Published online: 7 February 2005

Fiona M Wood,* Bess V Fowler, Daniel McAullay, Jocelyn R Jones§

* Plastic Surgeon and Director, Epidemiologist, Burns Service of Western Australia, Royal Perth Hospital, GPO Box X2213, Perth, WA 6847; Senior Policy Officer, § Manager, Office of Aboriginal Health, Health Department of Western Australia, Perth, WA. FionawATmccomb.org.au

To the Editor: People with major burn injuries (50% total body surface area or more) now have an improved likelihood of survival with the implementation of aggressive treatment regimens, including supportive therapy, nutrition, and advances in the control of sepsis. Technological developments and treatments, particularly expedient wound closure, early surgical debridement, covering of large burn wounds, early skin repair,1 use of cultured epithelial autograft2 and ventilation,3 have also contributed to improved outcomes for people with these injuries.

In Australia, there are inequities in access to health services which may particularly affect Aboriginal people.4 We therefore undertook a retrospective, observational study to compare the incidence of major burn injuries, clinical and demographic characteristics of patients with burns, as well as treatment and outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and adults in Western Australia between 1992 and 2002. Potential cases were identified using data linkage from the Western Australian Department of Health. Raw data came from clinical records.

Of the 84 people identified with major burn injuries, nine were Aboriginal (11%) and 75 were non-Aboriginal (89%). The incidence of major burn injury among Aboriginal people is greater than expected, as data from 2001 show that 3.5% of the WA population are Aboriginal.

Aboriginal people with major burn injuries were younger than non-Aboriginal people with those injuries (mean, 21 v 35 years). Eight of the nine Aboriginal people (89%) had flame-only burns, compared with 33 of 75 non-Aboriginal people (44%). No statistically significant difference was seen between the groups in the percentage of total body surface area affected, provision of treatment (including number of operative procedures, applications of cultured epithelial autografts, units of blood products used, nasogastric feeds, and antibiotic doses) or length of hospital stay.

We found that, although a greater percentage of Aboriginal people sustained major burn injuries, after this group entered the hospital system they experienced comparable levels of service and outcomes to non-Aboriginal people. Further research into burn care is warranted, from culturally and environmentally appropriate prevention through to critical appraisal of outcomes.

  • Fiona M Wood1
  • Bess V Fowler2
  • Daniel McAullay2
  • Jocelyn R Jones2

  • 1 Burns Service of Western Australia, Royal Perth Hospital, GPO Box X2213, Perth, WA 6847
  • 3 Office of Aboriginal Health, Health Department of Western Australia, Perth, WA.

Correspondence: Fionaw@mccomb.org.au

  • 1. Wood FM. Quality assurance in burns patient care: the James Laing Memorial Prize Essay 1994. Burns 1995; 21: 563-568.
  • 2. Carsin H, Ainaud P, Le Bever H, et al. Cultured epithelial autografts in extensive burn coverage of severely traumatized patients: a five-year single-center experience with 30 patients. Burns 2000; 26: 379-387.
  • 3. Papini RP, Wood FM. Current concepts in the management of burns with inhalation injury. Care Crit Ill 1999; 15: 61-66.
  • 4. Henry BR, Houton S, Mooney G. Institutional racism in Australian health care: a plea for decency. Med J Aust 2004; 180: 517-519. <eMJA full text>

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