The odds of surviving severe burns have steadily increased in recent decades, researchers report.
"Remarkably, a patient up to the age of 40 who has sustained a 95 percent body burn now survives half the time, whereas in earlier times a 50 percent body burn killed that same person," Dr. David Herndon said in a news release from the American College of Surgeons. He's director of research at the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston, Texas, and director of burn services at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Herndon led a team of researchers who analyzed the records of more than 10,300 adults and children who were burn patients at those two hospitals between 1989 and 2017.
Over that time, the risk that burn patients would die fell about 2 percent a year, the study found. The risk was highest among people who were older, those who had burns over a large area and those who had lung damage from inhaling smoke.
The researchers credit the reduction in deaths to improvements in the standard treatment for burn patients. That includes:
Improved transfer of critically ill patients to hospitals and burn centers has also played a role, according to the researchers.
"The most dramatic decreases in [deaths] most recently have been in patients over age 40," Herndon said.
"For example, a woman over the age of 40, with very large burns, is a patient who can survive today if these protocols are implemented," he explained in the news release.
Along with reducing the risk that a burn victim will die, researchers also need to identify treatment methods to improve survivors' quality of life, Herndon said.
And, "burn specialists also need to focus on implementing the protocols that have allowed this improvement in survival to occur," he added.
"We hope our findings will inspire other burn units to try to keep people alive with extensive burns because it's clear that it can be done," Herndon said.
The study was published online March 9 in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
The U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences has more on burns.
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