South African Journal of Surgery
On-line version ISSN 2078-5151
Print version ISSN 0038-2361
BACKGROUND: The aim of this observational study was to audit the burden of trauma with which patients present at the three hospitals that comprise the Pietermaritzburg Metropolitan Complex, as well as their intensive care units (ICUs) and the government medico-legal mortuary. METHOD: A retrospective audit was conducted by assessing emergency department, critical care unit admission record books and medico-legal mortuary report files over a period of two years as well as reviewing patient demographics and the mechanism of trauma in patients. Data were manually entered into a data spreadsheet for the period 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2011. Recorded data included basic demographic information, mechanism of injury and the facility. Details of the injury precipitating the ICU admission and the length of stay were included in the ICU data. RESULTS: During the period 10 644 patients presented to the Pietermaritzburg Metropolitan Trauma Service as a result of trauma-related injuries. Of the 10 644 trauma patients seen, there were 3 688 assault-related injuries (35%), 3 715 motor vehicle accident (MVA)-related injuries (35%), 516 gunshot wound (GSW)-related injuries (5%) and 2 725 stabbings (26%). The trauma burden consisted predominantly of blunt trauma (70%), followed by penetrating trauma (30%). The majority of trauma patients were male (77%). Of the 10 644 trauma patients seen, 510 (5%) needed admission to an ICU. The composition of the group requiring ICU was assault (8%), MVAs (48%), GSWs (14%) and stabbings (30%). A total of 1 105 (10%) trauma victims died, 471 of whom survived long enough to be admitted to a medical facility. The mortuary group consisted of 56% incidents of blunt trauma and 44% of penetrating trauma. There were 153 (14%) assault-related deaths, 462 (42%) MVA-related deaths, 181 (17%) GSW-related deaths and 309 (28%) stabbing-related deaths. CONCLUSION: Although the rate of penetrating trauma remains high, it is being overtaken by blunt trauma. Almost half of this blunt trauma load is nonintentional. MVAs are expensive to treat, consume ICU resources and are associated with significant mortality. Injury-prevention strategies are a priority, and should address the high rate of MVAs and the high rate of interpersonal violence. The decline in GSW-related trauma is cause for cautious optimism.