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Crit Care. 2009;13(6):R183. doi: 10.1186/cc8170. Epub 2009 Nov 17.

The leading causes of death after burn injury in a single pediatric burn center.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas 77555, USA.



Severe thermal injury is characterized by profound morbidity and mortality. Advances in burn and critical care, including early excision and grafting, aggressive resuscitation and advances in antimicrobial therapy have made substantial contributions to decrease morbidity and mortality. Despite these advances, death still occurs. Our aim was to determine the predominant causes of death in burned pediatric patients in order to develop new treatment avenues and future trajectories associated with increased survival.


Primary causes of death were reviewed from 144 pediatric autopsy reports. Percentages of patients that died from anoxic brain injuries, sepsis, or multi-organ failure were calculated by comparing to the total number of deaths. Data was stratified by time (from 1989 to 1999, and 1999 to 2009), and gender. Statistical analysis was done by chi-squared, Student's t-test and Kaplan-Meier for survival where applicable. Significance was accepted as P < 0.05.


Five-thousand two-hundred-sixty patients were admitted after burn injury from July 1989 to June 2009, and of those, 145 patients died after burn injury. Of these patients, 144 patients had an autopsy. The leading causes of death over 20 years were sepsis (47%), respiratory failure (29%), anoxic brain injury (16%), and shock (8%). From 1989 to 1999, sepsis accounted for 35% of deaths but increased to 54% from 1999 to 2009, with a significant increase in the proportion due to antibiotic resistant organisms (P < 0.05).


Sepsis is the leading cause of death after burn injury. Multiple antibiotic resistant bacteria now account for the bulk of deaths due to sepsis. Further improvement in survival may require improved strategies to deal with this problem.

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