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Preventing burns requires diligence
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Feb. 7-13 is Burn Awareness Week, a national campaign aimed at preventing burn injuries. It is a worthy public awareness initiative, since some half a million people are treated for burn injuries each year. Each year, of the 25,000 people admitted to burn centers, a third of them require treatment for severe burns covering more than 10 percent of their bodies. As many as 4,000 fire and burn victims die each year, and many survivors suffer disfigurement and permanent disabilities.

Many people think of burns in the traditional sense - specifically injuries caused by flames of hot objects. In fact, chemical burns are also common, as well as electric burns, and scalds resulting from boiling water and steam. Curling and clothes irons can cause significant injuries, as can many other household items, but burns from gasoline and similar chemical substances are more likely to cause serious injuries.

Gasoline is highly volatile, so when handling or storing it, great care must be used. Fumes from gasoline can ignite from a remote source and once lit, it burns hot and extremely fast. It has explosive properties so, for example, if a container with gasoline in it ignites, it can explode and spray flaming liquid. Those unfortunate enough to have this happen to them may end up, literally, as human torches. The results are devastating.

Special attention must be given to children in the common household environment, especially since 43% of burn injuries occur in the home. Owing to their curiosity, children are the most prone to knocking a boiling pot off the stove, touching a hot oven, grabbing a hot hair appliance, or experiencing other heat-related mishaps. Children tend to suffer burn injuries most often in the kitchen. The bathroom is the second most common place where kids suffer these kinds of injuries. Build in a margin of safety for kids in the bathtub or sink, the temperature of water heaters be set below the "scalding" level. The safe temperature for bathwater is 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so keeping the water heater temperature below 105 degrees is advisable. In doing so, a child cannot inadvertently scald themselves when playing with the faucets.

Burns are categorized by their severity. One might think that a "first degree" burn is the worst kind. In fact, a second degree burn is worse than a first and a third degree is the most severe. Persons who suffer third degree burns over a significant portion of their bodies often require skin grafts and many months of specialized treatment, which is both uncomfortable and very expensive.

According to the Milton Hershey Medical Center, "Burns are classified according to the amount of tissue they affect and how deep they are. A third-degree burn is the most serious because it destroys all the layers of the skin." Whether just a small or large portion of the body is affected by third degree burns, medical attention is essential. Burns are prone to infection and depending on the body areas and percentage of skin affected, they can lead to severe disfigurement, loss of physical mobility and nerve damage.

The problem with burns is that they result in great suffering for victims and their loved ones, and generate a huge financial impact to society. Yet burn injuries are among the most preventable types through the application of public education, awareness and the use of common sense when handling and storing flammable substances, chemicals and other sources of heat. For further information about this subject, visit