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Neurosurgery. 1998 Feb;42(2):300-10.

The epidemiology of urban pediatric neurological trauma: evaluation of, and implications for, injury prevention programs.

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Division of Epidemiology, Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.



To describe the incidence and causes of pediatric head, spinal cord, and peripheral nerve injuries in an urban setting and to assess the implications of these data for injury prevention programs.


Pediatric deaths and hospital admissions secondary to neurological trauma included in the Northern Manhattan Injury Surveillance System from 1983 to 1992 were linked to census counts to compute incidence rates. Rates before the implementation of a nonspecific injury prevention program were compared with rates after the implementation, and rates for the target population were compared to rates for the control population. Rates were analyzed on the basis of the cause of injury as well as the age, gender, and neighborhood income level of the injured.


The incidence of neurological injuries resulting in hospitalization or death was 155 incidents per 100,000 population per year; the mortality rate was 6 people per 100,000 population per year. Neurological injuries represented 18% of all pediatric injuries and accounted for 23% of all traumatic deaths. Spinal cord and peripheral nerve injuries were relatively rare (5%) compared to head injuries (95%). Minor head injuries, including isolated cranial fractures, minor concussions (<1 h loss of consciousness), and unspecified minor head injuries, accounted for the majority of neurological injuries (76%), whereas severe head injuries, including severe concussion (>1 h loss of consciousness), cerebral laceration/contusion, intracerebral hemorrhage, and unspecified major injuries, were less common (18% of all neurological injuries). Boys were more often affected than girls at every age, and this preference increased with age. Children younger than 1 year showed the highest incidence of both major and minor injuries. One- to 4-year olds showed the lowest rates, with steady increases thereafter. Traffic accidents and falls were the leading causes (38 and 34%, respectively), and assaults were the next leading causes (12%). Among children admitted to surveillance system hospitals, falls were most common in children younger than 4 years, pedestrian motor vehicle accidents were most common in late childhood, and assaults were most common in early adolescence.


fatality rates were 5 to 7% for all age groups except 5- to 12-year-olds, for whom the case:fatality rate was 1.9%. Residence in a low-income neighborhood was associated with an increased risk of injury (rate ratio, 1.71; confidence interval, 95%, 1.54, 1.89). The average hospitalization cost per injury was $8502. Medicaid (54%) and other government sources (5%) covered the majority of expenses, including indirect reimbursement of usually uncollected self-pay billing (19%). Although injury incidence rates fell in both the control and intervention cohorts during implementation of a nonspecific injury prevention program, targeted age and population groups demonstrated greater relative reductions in injuries than nontargeted ones, suggesting a positive effect.


Deaths and hospital admissions secondary to pediatric neurological trauma represent a significant public health problem, with the majority of the direct cost being born by government agencies. Future efforts to prevent neurological trauma in children who live in inner cities should focus on families with low incomes and provide novel education programs regarding infant abuse, infant neglect, and infant injury avoidance. Age-appropriate school-based programs should also be developed to address traffic safety and conflict resolution.

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