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Accident or assault? Pediatric firearm injuries differ by age

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According to a retrospective, cross-sectional study led by Children’s researchers, younger kids are more likely to be shot by accident, and odds are higher that older youths are victims of an assault involving a firearm.

An increasing number of children are injured by firearms in the U.S. each year, but the reasons these injuries happen vary. According to a new retrospective, cross-sectional study led by Children’s researchers and presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2018 National Conference & Exhibition, firearm injuries vary by the intent of the person discharging the weapon. Younger kids are more likely to be shot by accident, and odds are higher that older youths are victims of an assault involving a firearm. Efforts to protect children from firearm-related injuries should factor in these differences in intent as legislation and policies are drafted, the study team suggests.

Researchers led by Shilpa J. Patel, M.D., MPH, Children’s assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine, reviewed data aggregated in the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample from 2009 to 2013 looking for emergency department visits to treat firearm-related injuries suffered by children and adolescents 21 and younger. They excluded emergency department visits for firearm-related injuries attributed to air, pellet, BB or paintball guns.

Firearm-related injuries are a leading cause of injury and death for U.S. children. Some 111,839 children and youth were treated in emergency departments for firearm-related injuries, or 22,367 per year when averaged over the five-year study period. Nearly 63 percent of these youths were injured by accident; 30.4 percent were victims of assault; 1.4 percent used a firearm to injure themselves. Of note:

  • 89.3 percent were male
  • Their mean age was 18 (67.3 percent 18 to 21; 27.9 percent 13 to 17; 4.8 percent younger than 12)
  • 1 percent were discharged from the emergency department
  • 30 percent had injuries grave enough to trigger hospital admission and
  • 1 percent died from their injuries.

“Children younger than 12 were more likely to be shot by accident. By contrast, we found that the odds of experiencing firearm-related injuries due to assault were higher for youths aged 18 to 21,” Dr. Patel says. “Physicians can play a powerful role in preventing pediatric firearm-related injuries by routinely screening for firearm access and speaking with families about safe firearm storage and violence prevention,” she adds.

Some 52.1 percent of children with firearm-related injuries lived with families whose median household incomes exceeded $56,486.

American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition presentation

  • “Emergency department visits for pediatric firearm-related injury: by intent of injury.”

Shilpa J. Patel, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine and lead author, Gia M. Badolato, MPH, senior clinical research data manager and study co-author, Kavita Parikh, M.D., MS, associate professor of pediatrics and study co-author, and Monika K. Goyal, M.D., MSCE, assistant division chief and director of Academic Affairs and Research in the Division of Emergency Medicine and study senior author, all of Children’s National Health System; and Sabah F. Iqbal, M.D., medical director, PM Pediatrics, study co-author.

Pediatric ED visits and regional firearm laws

A Children’s research team led by Monika Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., found that the Northeast region had the most restrictive firearm laws and the lowest overall burden of firearm-related pediatric emergency department visits.

Pediatric emergency department (ED) visits for gun-related injuries were lower in regions with stronger firearm legislation, according to a five-year study led by Children’s National Health System.

Presenting the findings during the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference, the Children’s research team found that the Northeast region had the most restrictive gun laws and the lowest overall burden of firearm-related pediatric ED visits. Firearm-related pediatric ED visits were significantly higher in the West, South and Midwest, according to the study.

“Firearm-related injuries are a leading cause of injury and death among children and represent a significant public health concern,” says Monika Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s National and senior study author. “This study provides compelling data that an evidence-based approach to public policy may help to reduce firearm-related injuries among children.”

The research team extracted data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, the nation’s largest such database, and included ED visits from 2009 to 2013 by patients younger than 21. The team excluded emergency visits due to air, pellet, BB or paintball guns because they are not governed by firearm legislation. They used state-level Brady gun law scores to calculate median regional scores as measures of firearm legislation strictness.

During the five years covered by the study, there were 111,839 ED visits for pediatric firearm-related injuries, or 22,368 per year. The mean age of patients with firearm-related injuries was 18 years old. The majority were male. Across all age groups, 62.8 percent of firearm-related ED visits were because of accidental injuries, a statistic that rose to 81.4 percent for children aged 6 to 10. Six percent of patients died from their injuries, and 29.8 percent of injuries were serious enough to prompt hospital admission.

When compared with the low rates of firearm-related ED visits in the Northeast, the odds of children visiting EDs for firearm-related injuries were significantly higher in other U.S. regions, including the West (2.5), the South (1.9) and the Midwest (1.8).

“Regions with higher Brady scores – and, by extension stricter gun laws – had lower rates of ED visits by children and youth,” Dr. Goyal adds. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to characterize the relationship between children’s firearm-related injuries and the rigor of regional firearm legislation.”

The authors note that unlike adults, most children rushed to the Emergency Department overwhelmingly suffered from accidental firearm injuries. This fact underscores the importance of robust research that focuses specifically on children.

“Despite the importance of this topic, there has been a paucity of published research about firearm-related injuries and how they may be prevented. Most existing data have focused on adults; these findings cannot necessarily be extrapolated to children,” Dr. Goyal says.

Lenore Jarvis

Firearm-related injuries are leading causes of child and adolescent deaths and are preventable

Lenore Jarvis

Lenore Jarvis, M.D., M.Ed., F.A.A.P. addressed Congressional staff on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics in an effort to reduce gun injuries and deaths in the home by encouraging parents to ask about safe firearm storage.

“I see firsthand in my emergency department practice children getting shot: Unintentional, accidental injuries and shootings, homicides, suicides. And it’s terrible. If I never had to treat another child … for a gun-related injury, I would be so happy,” Lenore Jarvis, M.D., M.Ed., F.A.A.P., Pediatric Emergency Medicine Attending at Children’s National Health System, told Congressional staff. “I will never forget … a 5-year-old shot and killed by a family member who mistook him for a home intruder.”

Dr. Jarvis’ comments on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics came during briefings for Congressional staff working in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives just days after a gunman targeted Republicans practicing for a Congressional baseball game wounding five, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

The June 16, 2017 Congressional briefings were intended to draw attention to National ASK Day, an annual effort to reduce gun injuries and deaths in the home by encouraging parents to ask about safe firearm storage.

“It’s pretty simple,” Dr. Jarvis told attendees. “I think that there is a mutual recognition about what a public health problem this is: Firearms … are leading causes of deaths in children and adolescents through homicide and suicide by firearms. And they are preventable.”

Her comments echoed a recent firearms review paper published May 23, 2017, by a Children’s National research team that found firearms are present in 18 percent to 64 percent of U.S. homes, and 20,000 U.S. children are transported to Emergency Departments each year for firearm-related injuries. According to the study authors, pediatricians can play a pivotal role in helping to reduce gun violence by encouraging safe storage of firearms in the home and supporting research into firearm-related injury prevention.

In addition to Dr. Jarvis, speakers during the Congressional briefings included a Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon who decided to pursue a medical career after surviving a gunshot wound to the throat while he was a teenager, a Missouri state representative who co-founded the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance and a Brady Campaign strategist.

Kavita Parikh

Keeping children safe from firearm-related harm

Kavita Parikh

“While this preventable public health crisis occurs in the home, pediatricians who see children in clinic or at hospitals can play a pivotal role in helping to reduce gun violence,” says Kavita Parikh, M.D., M.S.H.S.

A review led by Children’s National Health System researchers presents new insights about pediatric firearm-related injuries. The findings, published May 23, 2017 in Hospital Pediatrics, show that up to 64 percent of U.S. households have firearms, and almost 40 percent of parents erroneously believe that their children are unaware of where weapons are stored. Additionally, about 22 percent of parents wrongly think that their children have never handled household firearms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearm-related injuries are leading causes of injury deaths for youths. Younger children are more likely to be victims of unintentional firearm injuries, the majority of which occur in the home. Older adolescents are more likely to suffer from intentional injuries. Homicide by firearm is the second-leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds, and suicide by firearm ranks as the third-most common cause of death for children aged 10 to 19. Estimates suggest that the cost of medical treatment for firearm-related injuries suffered by youths younger than 21 exceeds $330 million.

“While this preventable public health crisis occurs in the home, pediatricians who see children in clinic or at hospitals can play a pivotal role in helping to reduce gun violence,” says Kavita Parikh, M.D., M.S.H.S., associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Hospitalist Medicine at Children’s National and study lead author. “In the course of providing care, pediatricians can ask patients and their families about children’s access to firearms, can encourage safe storage of firearms in the home and can support research into firearm-related injury prevention.”

The review article provides an overview of the prevalence of pediatric firearm-related injuries around the nation and a summary of legislative efforts and health care-related advocacy efforts to reduce firearm injuries around the nation. It includes research by four Children’s National co-authors who comprise the institution’s newly formed firearm-injury prevention research work group. Alyssa Silver, M.D., Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, is another co-author.

The study team found that about 20,000 children are transported to Emergency Departments each year for firearm-related injuries. Youths aged 12 to 19 make up 90 percent of this total. On average, 20 U.S. children and youths are hospitalized daily for firearm-related injuries. About 50 percent of the children who are hospitalized for firearm-related injuries are discharged with a disability.

The researchers identified regional variations in the percentage of households with firearms, as well as differences in firearm ownership by race and ethnicity. Across a number of surveys, 6 percent to nearly 50 percent of families reported storing firearms safely by using such methods as trigger locks and locked storage containers. There is a mismatch in what parents report — with many saying their child would never touch a firearm – compared with children who tell researchers they handle “hidden” firearms, including by pulling the trigger. One survey of 5,000 fifth-graders and their caregivers living in three metropolitan areas found 18 percent had household firearms. Of this group, African American and Latino households had lower odds of firearm ownership than families of white, non-Latino children. Among these survey respondents, families of white non-Latino children were less likely than families of African American children to use safer strategies for firearm storage.

“While public health interventions have had varying degrees of success in improving firearm safety, the most effective programs have offered families free gun safety devices,” says Monika Goyal M.D., M.S.C.E., assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National and senior study author. “The stark differences in how parents perceive their children would act and the children’s own recollections to researchers underscore the importance of the combination of counseling parents to talk to their children about firearms and instituting safe storage practices for household guns.”

Sabah F. Iqbal, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National and study co-author, adds: “Most families are willing to discuss firearm safety with health care providers. It is encouraging that when families receive safety counseling from health care professionals, they store firearms more safely within the home. Pediatricians need to ask children and their families about the presence of firearms in the home. These essential conversations can occur in any medical setting and need to begin before a child begins to walk and explore their own home.”

Screening for access to firearms within the health care setting where youths receive routine care may represent a beneficial strategy, the authors write. A recent survey conducted among 300 adolescents seen in an Emergency Department found that 16 percent reported having a gun in the home and 28 percent said they could access a loaded gun within three hours. About 50 percent of adolescents screened for firearm access said a friend or relative owned a gun.

The study authors also discuss the benefit of “rigorous, well-conducted” research of firearm-related injuries to guide the work of public health agencies, policymakers and pediatricians, as well as supporting state-level laws shown to be effective in preventing firearm injuries, such as universal background checks and firearm identification.

“Rigorous investigations, with the use of validated scoring systems, large comprehensive databases and accurate detailed reporting and surveillance of firearm access and related injury are urgently needed,” Shilpa J. Patel, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National, and co-authors conclude. “A collective, data-driven approach to public health is crucial to halt the epidemic of pediatric firearm-related injury.”

Related reading: Pediatric firearm-related injuries in the United States.

Sabah IqbShilpa Patel, Monika Goyal

Stronger firearm laws reduce ED visits

Sabah Iqbl, Shilpa Patel, Monika Goyal

Children’s National researchers Sabah F. Iqbal, M.D., Shilpa J. Patel, M.D., and Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., found that regions of the United States with the strictest gun laws also have fewer emergency department visits for pediatric firearm-related injuries.

A new study by researchers from Children’s National Health System find that regions of the United States with the strictest gun laws also have the fewest emergency department visits for pediatric firearm-related injuries. The work is among the few studies to evaluate the association between local laws and firearm-related injury to children and youth. The results, presented at the 2017 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, could inform policies at the state and regional levels.

“Our results suggest an association between regional gun laws and firearm-related injuries in children,” says Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., director of research within Children’s Division of Emergency Medicine and senior author of the poster. “Regions with stricter gun laws had lower incidence rates of firearm-related emergency department visits by children.”

Firearm-related injuries are a leading cause of death and disability among children and adolescents in the United States. It is well established that states with more restrictive gun laws have fewer firearm-related fatalities. However, it has been unclear how these laws affect the rates of firearm-related injuries among children.

To investigate this question, Children’s National researchers gathered data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS), a set of hospital-based emergency department databases created by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to aggregate data about emergency department visits across the country. The researchers matched NEDS data from 2009 to 2013 in patients 21 and younger with state-level Brady Gun Law Scores, a measure of the strength of firearm laws, in four geographic regions: The Midwest, Northeast, South and West.

The researchers found that during this five-year study period, there were 111,839 emergency department visits for pediatric firearm-related injuries nationwide, an average of 22,368 per year. The mean age of patients was 18 years, and the vast majority was male. Just over one-third were publicly insured. About 30 percent of these recorded injuries resulted in hospital admission, and about 6 percent resulted in death.

Overall, firearm-related visits to emergency departments remained consistent over time at a rate of 65 per every 100,000 visits until 2013, when they decreased slightly to 51 per 100,000 visits. However, these rates varied significantly by geographic region. The Northeast had the lowest rate at 40 per 100,000 visits. This was followed by the Midwest, West and South at 62, 68 and 71 per 100,000 visits, respectively.

These numbers roughly matched the Brady Gun Law Scores for each region. The Northeast had the highest Brady score at 45, followed by 8, 9 and 9 for the South, West and Midwest.

These findings, the study authors say, suggest that stricter gun laws might lead to fewer fatalities as well as fewer gun-related injuries among children. Future studies about the role of regional gun culture and its impact on firearm legislation at the regional level, they say, is an important next step in advocating for changes to firearm legislation and reducing pediatric firearm-related injuries.

“Future research work should seek to elucidate the association of specific gun laws with the incidence rates of pediatric firearm-related injuries,” says Shilpa Patel, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National and co-author of the poster. “This work also could evaluate how regional differences — such as social gun culture, gun ownership and other factors — contribute to the significant regional variation in firearm legislation.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 66,000 pediatricians, has repeatedly advocated for stricter gun laws, violence prevention programs, research for gun violence prevention and public health surveillance, physician counseling to patients on the health hazards of firearms and mental health access to address exposure to violence.