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Abusive head injury: An epidemiological perspective

July 12, 2016

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (JULY 12, 2016). Abusive head injury, sometimes referred to as shaken baby syndrome or non-accidental trauma (NAT), is the third leading cause of head injuries in small children in the US. For children under the age of 1 year, it is the cause of the majority of serious head injuries. Outcomes often result in severe, permanent disability and sometimes death.

In the article "Abusive head trauma: an epidemiological and cost analysis" (published online today in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, Scott Boop, MPH, and colleagues examined the case files of all patients younger than 5 years of age who had been admitted to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital (LBCH) between 2009 and 2014 for abusive head injury. The authors' goal was to identify patient demographics and determine the incidence and extent of the injuries, seasonal trends associated with this abuse, required neurosurgical procedures, and costs of hospitalization.

LBCH is a tertiary hospital located in Memphis, Tennessee. The catchment area extends 200 miles out from the hospital, including children not only from Tennessee but also Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Missouri. The authors point out that Memphis and the surrounding area have more than a quarter of people living below the poverty line and nearly as many with less than a high-school education. Abusive head injury is disproportionately represented among the poor and socioeconomically disadvantaged.

For the purpose of this study, abusive head injury was defined as a "skull fracture or intracranial hemorrhage in a child under the age of 5 years with a suspicious mechanism or evidence of other intentional injuries, such as retinal hemorrhages, old or new fractures, or soft-tissue bruising."

Two hundred thirteen children, all younger than 5 years old, were evaluated and treated at LBCH during the 6-year study period. The majority of the children were 6 months of age or younger (55%), male (61%), and publically insured (82%). The racial distribution of the patients was 47% African American, 39% white, and 14% all other races combined.

The authors proposed a new classification for NAT head injury severity: Grade 1, skull fracture alone (25% of patients); Grade II, intracranial hemorrhage or brain swelling that does not require surgery (with or without skull fracture) (48%); and Grade III, intracranial hemorrhage (for example, acute or chronic subdural hemorrhage) requiring neurosurgical intervention (23%) or brain injury resulting in death (3%). The most common neurosurgical procedures performed were bur hole washout or percutaneous transfontanelle aspiration of subdural fluid (blood mixed with cerebrospinal fluid) and decompressive craniectomy.

The authors found the average monthly (6-year aggregate) and annual incidences of abusive head injury in the catchment area (per 100,000 children 0 to 4 years of age) to be 18.3 and 36.6 cases, respectively. The number of cases increased substantially between 2009 (19.6 per 100,000) and 2014 (47.4 per 100,000), with a peak in 2012 (49.5 per 100,000). January, July, and October were associated with higher than average rates of abusive head injury.

The authors state that the median length of hospital stay was 5 days (range 1 to 65 days). Not surprisingly, the authors found that the length of stay increased with the severity of the injury. Likewise, hospital costs increased with the grade of the injury. The median cost of a single hospital admission was $12,314 for a Grade I injury and $90,092 for a Grade III injury. Total hospital charges for all 213 cases were just over $13 million.

The senior author, Dr. Paul Klimo, states, "This is a sobering study. All of us involved in the daily care of these unfortunate children felt that we were seeing more and more of them over the years, but to see the actual numbers is quite an eye-opener. This year alone, through the first 2 weeks of May, we have already seen 28 cases, including 6 deaths. At this pace, 2016 will have the highest incidence, something I sincerely hope we don't achieve. This is a serious public health issue that deserves greater attention within local communities, statewide and nationally."
-end-
Disclosure: The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.

Boop S, Axente M, Weatherford B, Klimo P Jr: Abusive head trauma: an epidemiological and cost analysis. Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, published online, ahead of print, July 12, 2016; DOI: 10.3171/2016.1.PEDS15583.

For additional information, please contact:

Ms. Jo Ann M. Eliason, Communications Manager
Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group
One Morton Drive, Suite 200, Charlottesville, VA 22903
Email: jaeliason@thejns.org Phone 434-982-1209

The Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics is a monthly peer-reviewed journal focused on diseases and disorders of the central nervous system and spine in children. This journal contains a variety of articles, including descriptions of preclinical and clinical research as well as case reports and technical notes. The Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics is one of four monthly journals published by the JNS Publishing Group, the scholarly journal division of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Other peer-reviewed journals published by the JNS Publishing Group each month include the Journal of Neurosurgery, Neurosurgical Focus, and the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. All four journals can be accessed at http://www.thejns.org.

Founded in 1931 as the Harvey Cushing Society, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) is a scientific and educational association with more than 8,300 members worldwide. The AANS is dedicated to advancing the specialty of neurological surgery in order to provide the highest quality of neurosurgical care to the public. All active members of the AANS are certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Neurosurgery) of Canada, or the Mexican Council of Neurological Surgery, AC. Neurological surgery is the medical specialty concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of disorders that affect the entire nervous system including the brain, spinal column, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. For more information, visit http://www.AANS.org.

Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group

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