Updated 01 July 2015

Don't become a burn victim this winter

South Africans stand a higher chance of dying of burn injuries compared to the global average and are being urged to be vigilant, especially with winter approaching.


South Africans are urged to be careful of burn injuries with winter fast approaching. Here are some handy tips on what you should and should not do.

People are more at risk of burns in winter because of fires, gas heaters and other appliances that are used to keep warm, according to ER24.

Children bear the brunt

Every year a large number of people sustain anything from superficial to full thickness burns, and many of those who sustain burn injuries are children.

"Burns is a big problem in South Africa," said Dr Nikki Allorto, a specialist surgeon, who is head of the Edendale Hospital Burn Service in Pietermaritzburg, president of the South African Burn Society and founder of the Burn Care Trust.

“Available statistics we have from national data show that 3.2 percent of the population get burnt annually."

"That is 1.6 million burn injuries every year. 0.2 percent suffer severe burns, which in real terms means that 268 people are severely burnt every month across the country," said Dr Allorto.

Read: What you should know about burns

She noted during her address at the recent launch of the Stop the Burn Campaign for winter 2015 that burns account for 12 percent of all fatal accidents.

"Mortality from burns in South Africa is 8.5 in 100 000. The world average is 5 in 100 000," said Dr Allorto.

Raising awareness

Amanda Wilde, the managing director of Umsinsi Health Care, a medical device company, said the Stop The Burn Campaign aims to raise awareness of the devastating effects of burns in South Africa.

“Our campaign also aims to reduce burn injuries and their associated complications by encouraging South Africans to be aware of how seriously burn wounds should be taken, so that they can request the best care for themselves and their family,” he said.

Read: 10 ways to keep warm this winter

Hentie Malan, ER24 Joburg West Branch Manager, urged adults to take precautions, be alert and to educate children. He said it is important to keep a fire extinguisher at home and that all members of the household are trained in how to use it.

“I have been to numerous fires where lives were lost. There is one that will never leave my mind. I was a young firefighter when I attended to an incident in which three boys were burnt. They were in a wendy house. The house caught alight while they were asleep. They did not wake up quick enough and died in the blaze,” said Malan.     

Second to third degree burns in kids

Speaking about burn injuries among children in general, Malan said the severity is usually second to third degree burns, depending on what the child was burnt with.

“Hot water is the most common cause of burns among children. Fire is the second most common cause. Parents should keep kettles, matches and lighters for example out of reach of children," he cautioned.

Fires in the home

Malan said that common causes of fires at home include heaters that are left unattended and overloaded plug points.

“Before using a heater, make sure it is safe to use. Heaters should never be left on during the night or left unattended. They should also not be placed too close to curtains and couches. Also ensure plugs are not overloaded,” said Malan.

Candles are also a common cause of fires. Malan suggested people using candles place them in a container with water.

“Should it be left burning during the night, the candle will extinguish itself when it reaches the water. If the candle tips over, the water in the container will extinguish the open flame,” he said.

What about informal houses?

Fires at informal settlements also increase during the colder months. Gas heaters and open flames in small rooms are the common causes of fires in informal settlements.

Malan urged people staying in informal settlements to take extra care when trying to start fires to cook food or for warmth.

He said the devastation caused as a result of fires in an informal settlement is immense. "Fires spread rapidly due to the houses located close to each other. These houses are also built with flammable materials."

What to do

Dr Robyn Holgate, from ER24, said people with extensive burn wounds need to be transported to hospital as soon as possible. “Do not delay this. Serious burn wounds should be treated by professionals," she said.

"For minor burns, run cool tap water over the burn for at least 10 to 20 minutes. If arms and legs are affected, try to elevate the person to decrease the swelling,” advised Holgate.

What not to do

• Do not pop or remove blisters
• Do not put ice on the burn/s
• Do not use home remedies like coffee, butter, toothpaste, mustard, soy sauce and milk. The patient stands a greater chance of infection and further wound damage if these substances are used.

Also read:

South Africans warned of severe flu strains

Cold winter chill to grip South Africa

Safety tips for cold-weather exercise

Image: Burn injuries on hand from Shutterstock


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