Be careful, burn-related injuries are on the rise

Be careful, burn-related injuries are on the rise

South Africans are once again being cautioned to take extra care this winter as many turn to gas and paraffin heaters to keep warm, which in some cases lead to serious burn-related injuries.

“Thermal or heat-elated injuries are largely preventable but are a major problem in South Africa,” says Dr Iqbal Karbanee, a paediatrician and the chief executive of Paed-IQ BabyLine.

“The major causes of thermal injury are either because of accidents involving paraffin or hot water and liquids in the home, all which are scalding. Burns can also occur from electrical sources such as faulty switches and plugs or exposed cables.”

In South Africa , the number of patients with burn injuries increase during winter. There are many reasons for this:

• Diabetics losing feeling in their feet and accidentally burning them with hot water bottles, heaters or hot bath water.

• Very young children pulling kettle chords or hot cups from countertops.

• Informal settlement fires due to lack of electricity.

• Chemicals in factories as well as hot oil or steam from restaurants.

Danielle de Villiers, the project manager at Melcura, says she quickly became aware of how much needs to be done to prevent burns.

“Our reality in SA is that many people are either living without electricity, or only have sporadic access to electricity. This means that gas or open fires are used by millions daily. These same people do not have easy access to medical care, so the most important first step is to educate people on prevention, and also treatment in the event of burn wounds.”

Children in particular, says Karbanee, are vulnerable to burn injuries at home because they do not have the insight into potential sources of danger.

“Children are, by nature, inquisitive and experimental. The toddler or preschooler who is mobile and confined in a small space in cold weather is at very high risk for thermal injury.”

Karbanee says parents should take care in identifying potential sources of thermal danger at home, and be extra vigilant with indoor fireplaces, where little hands may want to touch hot doors and handles, or play with flames.

Someone who has plenty of experience with wound care is Sister Renè Lessing, a registered nurse.

“As a caregiver, it is heartbreaking to see patients with infected burn wounds that could have healed quite easily if the correct procedures were taken immediately,” Lessing says.

Her says there are many myths about how to treat burns but the truth is that many of them can cause further damage.

Never apply ice, butter, toothpaste, ice water or egg white. These can introduce even more bacteria, or even increase the damage.

What you should do:

• Rinse the wound with running cool tap water (or cool clean water from a container) for at least 20 minutes. This will cool down the wound and assist with the pain.

• Thereafter, lightly cover the wound with either an emergency-type dressing or a petroleum jelly gauze dressing.

• The important rule is to keep it clean and minimise pain. Remember that burn patient needs medical help, and it is advised to seek professional medical assistance as soon as possible.