Warnings follow a record number of contact burns in 2020
The onset of extreme temperatures in Maricopa County brings new warnings about serious burn injuries from outside surfaces that can reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit in Arizona’s brutal summer heat.
Last year, the Arizona Burn Center at Valleywise Health recorded a record high 104 heat-related burn injuries in June, July and August, a 49 percent increase from previous years and the highest number recorded since the Burn Center began gathering the data in 2000. The data is in a new Arizona Burn Center report titled “Streets of Fire.”
Burns covered from 5% to 25% of the individual’s body. Eighty-five patients were admitted last year with burns due to contact with hot pavement. Of these, 30 percent needed ICU care and 20 percent required medical ventilation.
“Last year, the Arizona Burn Center saw an alarming number of patients with serious burns from Arizona’s extreme heat. These burns are preventable and with temperatures reaching 114 degrees and above next week, we hope to raise awareness of the dangers of hot surfaces like pavement and concrete,” said Dr. Kevin Foster, Arizona Burn Center director.
Last year was one the one of the hottest years on record with almost 3 times as many days with excessive heat warnings than the five-year average.
Under these conditions, external surface temperatures can reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and deep cutaneous burns can happen with only brief contact. Exposure often occurs in patients with impairments that prevent them from quickly removing themselves from such contact, leading to severe injury.
Other numbers to note from the report include:
- Only 16 percent of the patients were homeless; the remainder lived in homes or apartments.
- 38 percent were age 60 or older.
- More patients demonstrated significantly greater illicit drug use and increased alcohol consumption in 2020 than in previous years.
- The average age of burn victims last year was 52.
- Patients typically required an average of 2 surgeries and 2 weeks of hospitalization for treatment of their burn injuries.
To prevent heat-associated burns, follow these safety tips:
- Stepping on hot asphalt, concrete, or flagstone in bare feet or while wearing flimsy footwear can cause serious burns. Wear sturdy shoes with thick, protective soles whenever walking outside, including at the pool. (Don’t forget your pets, either.)
- Seniors, especially those with neurological conditions, are prone to falls. On hot pavement, even if it takes a minute to get up, they can be prone to burns. Anyone with a history of falls should keep a towel or blanket in their care that could be rolled underneath them if they fall and are unable to get up.
- Hot pavement also can be dangerous for people who have neuropathy. If they experience decreased sensation in their feet, they may not realize they are stepping on an unsafe surface. Anyone with this condition should wear well-fitted shoes with supportive bottoms during the summer.
- The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has warned that children can get thermal burns form playground equipment, including plastic and rubber. Do a “touch test” of equipment before allowing children to play on it.
Babies and toddlers are particularly susceptible. They may not have well-developed reflexes and may not be able to remove themselves from a hot surface.
- Never leave your child or pet in a car. It can be tempting to leave your child or pet in the car when running quick errands, but even short intervals of time in a hot car can be dangerous. It’s estimated that in 100° weather, common during Arizona summers, the car will reach 119° in just 10 minutes.
- With temperatures regularly surpassing the hundreds during Arizona summers, objects that are usually harmless can quickly turn into burn hazards after sitting in the sun. Perhaps the most common culprits of burns are car door handles, seatbelt buckles, and other metal car parts, which conduct heat quickly. Metal benches and tables can also cause burns.
- Keep children and pets a safe distance from grills, cooking areas, and recreational fires.
- Stay protected from the sun. Use hats and sunblock, and realize that sunblock needs to be reapplied after swimming or after sweating.
- Seek medical care immediately if you have, or someone you know, has suffered burns from hot pavement or other surfaces.