CHAPEL HILL - Unintentional injuries at home have become a major public health problem across the country, according to a series of new Home Safety Council-funded studies conducted at the University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Research Center.
"Between 1992 and 1999, we found that an average of 18,048 unintentional home injury deaths occurred annually in the United States," said Dr. Carol W. Runyan, director of the center and professor of health behavior and health education and pediatrics at UNC schools of public health and medicine. "In addition, for 1998 alone, more than 12 million nonfatal unintentional injuries that required medical attention occurred at home."
Falls, poisoning and burn injuries were the leading causes of such deaths at home, she said.
"Rates of fall deaths were highest for older adults, poisoning deaths were highest among middle-aged adults, while fire and burn death rates were highest among children and older adults," Runyan said. "Suffocation, inhalation and drowning deaths also are serious problems, especially for infants and toddlers. For nonfatal injuries, the risks are greatest for the youngest and oldest age groups."
For both fatal and nonfatal injuries, males are more likely than females to be victims, she said.
"This research is the most up-to-date and detailed of its kind," said Meri-K Appy, Home Safety Council president. "The findings underscore the critical need for action to reduce the risk of injury within the home."
The related articles appear in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The importance of fire safety and fall prevention efforts and ensuring that hazards in the home, such as poisons and firearms, are stored safely should not be underestimated, Runyan said. Improving injury data collection to reveal the full size of the problem and to monitor trends is needed.
"Too often the location of an incident is omitted from medical records," she said.
Researchers also urged increased funding for injury control work since the problem is so big.
"At a time when so much attention is focused on homeland security, it is ironic that we can experience this magnitude of trauma in the home every year and have it go virtually unnoticed," Runyan said. "Federal and state government, as well as private groups, should support more work on this issue."
Other contributors, all with UNC affiliations, are Drs. Stephen W. Marshall, assistant professor of epidemiology and orthopedics; Tamera Coyne-Beasley, associate professor of pediatrics and medicine; and Anna E. Waller, research associate professor of emergency medicine.
Others are Carri Casteel, UNC IPRC and department of epidemiology and graduate students Carla Black and Shankar Visawanathan. Other collaborators formerly at UNC include: David Perkis of Purdue University and Drs. Renee Johnson of Harvard University, Lorena Baccaglini, University of the Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio, and Jingzhen Yang of the University of Iowa.
Information analyzed for the studies came from the National Vital Statistics System, the National Health Interview Survey, the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Care Surveys for Outpatient and Emergency Departments.
Additional support for the research came from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
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