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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 10, 2003

UI Burn Care Specialists Urge Awareness, Prevention

Specialists in the Burn Treatment Center at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are urging all Iowans to become more aware of the risk factors that can cause burns and learn more about how to prevent those often severe, potentially life-threatening injuries.

Burn injuries are a serious problem in the United States. Each year, fires that start in the home kill more than 3,000 people and injure about 16,000. These fires cost the nation in excess of $18 billion. Tragically, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities are those most likely to become victims of serious burns. Children are particularly vulnerable. Each year, about 800 children under the age of 15 die of fire-related causes and about 500 of these deaths are to children under the age of 5. In fact, children under age 5 have a death rate from fire more than twice the national average.

“The good news is that all of us can do something to reduce that toll on human lives,” said Lee Faucher, M.D., a surgeon in the Burn Treatment Center at UI Hospitals and Clinics. “There are many simple, yet very effective, steps that can limit the number and severity of burn injuries.”

Americans can make their homes safer by making sure they have a working smoke alarm. About 90 percent of U.S. households have smoke alarms. However, a recent survey found that smoke alarms in 20 percent of those households -- about 16 million -- were not working, mostly because the battery was dead or missing. Those families who have not yet done so should place a smoke alarm inside each sleeping room and on each level of a multi-story home and make sure the alarms are tested monthly and the batteries are replaced when necessary.

Everyone should also learn what to do in the event of fire, including the "stop, drop, and roll" maneuver that can help prevent serious burn injuries. Those families who have not yet done so should make plans for escaping a house fire, and every American family should review and practice the plan regularly.

Scalding injuries are also another common cause of burns. Provide constant adult supervision for young children, anyone who may experience difficulty removing oneself from hot water, or people who may not recognize the danger in turning on the hot water. Set home water heaters no higher than 120 degrees. An easy method to test this is to allow hot water to run for three to five minutes, then test with a candy, meat or water thermometer. Adjust the water heater and wait a full day to allow the temperature to change. Retest and readjust as needed.

Anti-scald devices, anti-scald aerators, and scald guards are heat-sensitive devices that stop or interrupt the flow of water when the temperature reaches a pre-determined safe temperature and prevent hot water from coming out of the tap before scalding occurs. These devices will not allow the faucet to become fully operational until the water temperature is reduced to a safe level. Some devices allow the resident to preset a comfortable maximum temperature to eliminate the risk of scalding. Whole house anti-scald mixing valves installed in a hot-water line are also available.

Cooking-related scalds are common in all age groups, but are especially serious for young children, older adults and people with disabilities. Children get burned when they upset cups of coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate or other hot beverages, grab dangling appliance cords or pot handles, or pull on hanging tablecloths. Adults receive cooking-related scalds from hot liquid spills and hot oil spatters while deep-frying. Although these burns may cover a smaller surface area than tap-water scalds, they are often deeper because of the higher temperature and are more likely to need surgical skin grafting. These injuries usually occur both in kitchens and in dining areas of the home.

Cook on back burners when young children are present. Keep all pot handles turned back, away from the stove edge. All appliance cords need to be kept coiled and away from counter edges. Curious children may reach up and grab handles or cords. Cords may also become caught in cabinet doors causing hot food and liquids to spill onto you or others.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) helps to keep children and families safe from products that pose fire dangers. CPSC activities have contributed to a decline in fires and fire deaths over the past several years. For example, the CPSC standard for child-resistant lighters has helped reduce fire deaths from children playing with lighters by 43 percent since 1994.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room 8798 JPP, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

CONTACT(S): Tom Moore, 319-356-3945, thomas-moore@uiowa.edu.