NEW ORLEANS – Accidental firearm-related injuries among children occur more frequently in rural than in urban locations, and nearly 60% of such cases are potentially preventable, results from a single-center study suggest.
Furthermore, these gun injuries carry the same mortality and disability risk.
“Firearm-related injury is an understudied topic,” lead study author, said in an interview in advance of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “In particular there is a lack of granular level research on firearm-related injury in the population.”
At the meeting, she presented findings from an analysis which set out to investigate the location, preventability, and temporal trends of pediatric firearm-related injury in 184 patients age 18 and younger who were treated in the pediatric trauma program at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center during 2008-2017. Dr. Lucisano, a surgical resident at the university, and her colleagues focused their work on efforts to illustrate the differences and similarities in the demographics, injury-related characteristics, and outcomes between the rural and urban populations of children who are injured by firearms in Southwestern Pennsylvania. They classified the location as rural if the injury occurred outside the region’s central metropolitan county, and classified the injury as potentially preventable if the firearm was not stored securely and was used without permission. Statistical analyses included Wilcoxon rank-sum and chi-square analyses.
Of the 184 children who sustained a firearm-related injury during the study period, 43% occurred in a rural location. Compared with children who were injured in an urban setting, those who were injured in a rural setting were younger (a mean of 13 vs. 14 years; P = 0.0003), were more frequently white (81% vs. 14%; P less than 0.0001), and were more frequently injured by accident (70% vs. 15%; P less than 0.0001). They were also more likely to be injured by rifle or shotgun (24.1% vs. 6.67%; P = 0.001).
The rates of death or disability and lengths of stay did not differ significantly based on location of injury, occurring in 16.5% of rural and 13.3% of urban patients.
Nearly three-quarters of accidental injuries (72%) occurred on the gun-owner’s property and 58% were considered by the researchers to be potentially preventable.
“As expected, rural injuries are more frequently unintentional while urban injuries are more frequently assaults,” Dr. Lucisano said. “However, markers of injury severity and outcomes are equivalent between the groups, meaning that morbidity and mortality of injuries in the rural setting are similar to those in the urban setting.”
She emphasized that while clinician bias may be to consider rural firearm-based injuries as less severe, “our study shows that they carry the same burden of morbidity and mortality as urban injuries and thus should be cared for with the same intensity and anticipation of a possible poor outcome. Furthermore, the large number of potentially preventable injuries among those that were unintentional represents a significant burden of morbidity and mortality that could have been avoided through safer firearm storage. Programs to promote safe firearm storage should be targeted to populations that have high rates of potentially preventable injuries.”
Dr. Lucisano and her colleagues observed that the rates of all forms of firearm-related injury appear to be on the rise in both rural and urban areas: accidental, self-inflicted, and assault, in particular. She acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its retrospective, single-center design. “We did not capture children who died in the field or who were treated at other hospitals, though as our center is the only pediatric Level 1 trauma center, we capture a large majority of pediatric trauma patients in the region,” she said.
The researchers reported having no disclosures.
SOURCE: Lucisano A. AAP 2019, Section on Surgery program.