A five-year overview of fatal thermal and electrical burns in Johannesburg, South Africa
Keywords:forensic science, unnatural death, mortality rates, fatal burn incidence
Thermal and electrical burn injuries affect millions of people globally each year. South Africa is a developing country where fatal fires are common. Despite the pervasiveness of fatal thermal and electrical burns in South Africa, there is a paucity of information regarding the frequency of such fatal burns in the City of Johannesburg. We aimed to describe the demographics and frequency of fatal thermal and electrical burn cases received at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services Medico-Legal Mortuary for medico-legal death investigations, and compare the burn mortality rates between Johannesburg and those reported in Cape Town, Pretoria, and Mpumalanga. This study was a 5-year (2010–2014) retrospective review of 185 forensic medico-legal case files of fatal burns (156 thermal burn cases and 29 electrical burn cases) received at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services Medico-Legal Laboratory. The demographics at the greatest risk of fatal burns in Johannesburg, South Africa are black (2.11 per 100 000) and male (1.03 per 100 000) individuals, and those in the 30–39-year age group (3.6 per 100 000). Children aged 0–9 years had a high mortality rate due to thermal burns (3.44 per 100 000). The most common type of fatal burns is thermal in nature, as a result of flames (1.62 per 100 000). Electrical burns are relatively rare (0.3 per 100 000). Burns are prevalent in the winter months, most notably in August. Burn wounds are common on the head, chest, back, and abdomen. Johannesburg has an overall lower burn mortality rate and incidence frequency than Cape Town, Pretoria, and Mpumalanga. This study is the first to report on fatal burns in Johannesburg, South Africa.
- A description is provided of fatal thermal and electrical burns of individuals whose deaths were investigated at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services Medico-Legal Mortuary.
- The results highlight the demographic groups at risk of fatal burns in Johannesburg, South Africa.
- Johannesburg has a lower fatal burn incidence and mortality rate than Cape Town, Pretoria, and Mpumalanga; however, young people, particularly male individuals, are at greatest risk.
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