Warning for parents as data reveals spike in burn injuries during school holidays

School holidays are typically a fun time for children, but burn clinicians are urging parents to be vigilant as new data reveals a spike in burn injuries among children on school holidays. The call comes during National Burns Awareness Month, an initiative of Kidsafe Australia run in partnership with the Australian and New Zealand Burn Association.

A recent report by the Burns Registry of Australia and New Zealand (BRANZ) reveals more than 4,000 children between the ages of four and 18 were hospitalised with burn injuries over a 10 year period between January 2009 and December 2018. Researchers analysed admissions data from all 17 specialist burn units in Australian and New Zealand.

Researchers measured the number of burns per week and found injuries spiked by almost 40% during school holidays, and injuries occurring in school holiday periods increased from 29% in 2010 to 31% in 2018.

The most common school holiday injuries requiring hospitalisation included children coming into contact with hot car or motorbike exhaust pipes (11%), or accidentally coming into contact with the hot remains of a campfire (8% of cases) and scalding from hot water. Flame burns from campfires, bonfires, or burn offs were the leading cause of injury in both school holidays and the school term, accounting for 12% of injuries.

The study also found injuries during school holidays occurred slightly more in younger patients between the ages of four and six, that there were more contact burns and unintentional injuries, and more people were burned during recreational and leisure activities like sports.

Clinicians and researchers are now calling for increased awareness to avoid injuries during school holidays.

Dr Lincoln Tracy, Monash University researcher and study co-author, said these injuries are often accidental but can be easily avoided.

“The latest report confirms previous anecdotal and local evidence that a significant number of paediatric burns occur during school holiday periods and unfortunately that this number is on the rise,” Dr Tracy said.

“Our findings suggest that school-aged children who sustained burn injuries during school holiday periods are younger, have a greater proportion of burns from vehicle exhausts, hot coals, and ashes, and are more commonly injured during recreational or leisure activities.”

Dr Monique Bertinetti, Paediatric Burn Surgeon at the Burn Unit at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and co-author of the report, said that whilst children should enjoy their school holidays, it is important to be mindful to avoid burn injuries.

“Exhaust pipes on cars and motorbikes become so hot they can burn skin in seconds. Care should be taken when riding or walking past hot exhausts. Burns from hot exhausts happen quickly, often require surgery, and leave scars that last a lifetime,” Dr Bertinetti said.

Dr Bertinetti also warned of the dangers of campfires.

“When sand is used to cover a campfire it not only makes it harder to identify as a prior fire site, it also allows the coals lying underneath to retain heat for several days. The coals and ashes can severely burn the feet of children who unknowingly walk across these sites with or without wearing shoes,” Dr Bertinetti said.

Dr Bertinetti said the burn community are calling for parents and their children to stay safe while on holidays.

In total 1,294 children school-aged children (31%) were injured during the school holidays and 2,921 (69%) were injured outside of school holiday periods. Burns injuries often resulted in hospital stays and surgery, with around 60% of patients who were taken to theatre receiving a skin graft.

Twenty minutes of cool running water within three hours of injury is the current gold standard first aid practice for burns. However, one in six school-aged children did not receive any first aid following their injury, the report concluded.

The BRANZ is a collaboration between Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and the Australian and New Zealand Burn Association.

The full report can be freely accessed here.