Many people have heard about the McDonald’s “hot coffee” spill lawsuit from 1994. That was one of the first cases to highlight the significant, life-threatening scalding injuries that can occur when hot beverages are spilled or consumed. Unfortunately, a recent case further illustrates the very real dangers and the often horrific injuries associated with the negligent service of hot beverages in restaurants.

A 6-year-old boy was having lunch with family members at a Chinese restaurant. During the meal, a server placed a pot of hot tea on the table’s lazy Susan. When the lazy Susan turned, the pot tipped over and spilled scalding tea onto the child, causing second degree and third degree burns to many different parts of his body. The child had to be transferred to a burn center where he underwent skin-graft procedures in which skin was harvested from uninjured parts of his body and grafted onto the burned areas. Unfortunately, the locations on his body used for skin donations failed to heal, and he required a second procedure that harvested skin from a different part of his body to cover the wound created by the first skin-graft. The damage caused by the skin-grafts nearly doubled the total body surface area that was damaged and injured in the spill incident at the restaurant.


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Transfer to a Burn Center is a critical need for patients with toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), or Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a related condition, because both damage the skin in much the same way as a topical or deep tissue burn. These blister-causing conditions are related to underlying infections or allergic reactions to prescription or over-the-counter medications. Both are life-threatening and life-changing because the skin peels off and must heal itself for the patient to combat infection and survive. Like burns, the resulting scars could affect the way a patient feels and how they will be treated once they return home.

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Make no mistake about it. A severe burn is a major injury that will change your life and the lives of those you love forever. That is why it is so important to make sure you are getting the best possible healthcare. As a burn survivor, you may not have the strength, focus, time, or inclination to personally manage your healthcare team. You will have to rely on help from your family, your closest friends, and trusted advisors. Reintegration post-burn is a team effort.

I doubt anyone lives their life looking ahead to the possibility that they might one day suffer a severe burn. Most people, if not all, do not research their area burn centers and healthcare professionals until after a burn occurs. Luckily, the American Burn Association (ABA) has done the research for us.


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According to the American Burn Association, nearly half a million Americans suffer thermal burn injuries each year, resulting in approximately 40,000 hospitalizations and 3,400 deaths annually. Despite these alarming statistics, the survival rate is high. This is largely attributable to advances in research, medicine, and technology in the field of burn injury care.

Thermal burns can cause severe damage to the victim’s skin, requiring focused wound care, infection prevention, and even excision and skin grafts. Eschar excision and skin grafting has long been the standard of care. Skin grafting can be accomplished through different methods. An autograft is where skin from a donor site on the same patient is used. One benefit to the autograft is that there is no risk of rejection. However, the donor sites are painful. Moreover, autografts may not be feasible in the case of extensive burns covering large surface areas.


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Severe burn injuries frequently result in more than just physical pain. Survivors often suffer significant psychological and emotional damage, as well. The onset of symptoms of a psychological injury related to a severe burn can appear within a few days or weeks of the injury. However, the symptoms of psychological and emotional trauma caused by severe burns may not become apparent for weeks, months or even years following a burn injury.

For the majority of burn injury survivors, the symptoms will fade within a few weeks or months. However, according to Burn Injury Model Systems, about one third of people with major burn injuries continue to suffer from psychological and emotional distress for years following the injury. In some instances, these effects are permanent and will require ongoing treatment.


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This year National Burn Awareness Week is February 1 – 7. This is the 30th anniversary of this important week, which was developed as a vehicle to promote burn awareness and prevention among the general public, as well as high-risk groups, like children and older adults. The goal is always to spread a common message of awareness and prevention, and this year’s message is Scald Prevention. The American Burn Association and National Scald Prevention Campaign provide a wealth of information on this important issue.

High-Risk Groups

Young children and older adults are at particularly high risk for burn injuries. Children have immature motor and cognitive skills, strong dependence on adults for supervision and danger-avoidance, and an inability to self-rescue. Older adults often have decreased reaction times, impaired mobility and may suffer from the effects of a pre-existing health condition.

Furthermore, young children and older adults have thinner dermal layers of their skin compared to members of other age groups. This leads to deeper burns at lower temperatures and shorter exposure times. When exposed to the same quantity of hot liquid, a child will likely suffer burns over a larger percentage of her total body surface than an adult.

Scald Statistics

In 2013, an estimated 68,536 scald burn injuries were seen in hospital emergency departments in the U.S.; 15,588 (23%) occurred to children under age 4 or younger.

Water does not have to be boiling to cause a severe burn. The boiling point for water is 212° F. It takes just 2 seconds of exposure to 148° F water to cause a burn sever enough to require surgery. Hot water heaters should be set to 120° F, or just below the medium setting. A safe bathing temperature is 100° F.


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Approximately 33,000 people suffer a burn injury requiring hospital emergency room treatment annually in southern New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. The numbers of burn victims and the extent of their injuries can be staggering. However large the numbers may be, every burn victim’s experience is personal. What can people with severe burns expect as they work to recover from their injuries and put their lives back together?

One of the obvious results of a severe burn injury is physical pain and discomfort. Depending on the severity of the burn, physical pain can continue for weeks, months, and in some cases, for the rest of a person’s life. Physical pain can impact many aspects of a burn victim’s life. The pain can severely limit a person’s ability to work, to sleep, and to do everyday activities. Many burn victims report the pain and anger associated with constant itching as the worst part of the recovery process.

Physical pain can also have secondary effects. For instance, ongoing pain can affect a person’s mood, leading to depression and anxiety. Pain can hamper the healing process, as well. It can inhibit a person’s ability to perform rehabilitation exercises and lead to loss of range of motion.


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According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1.1 million people suffer burn injuries that require medical attention every year in the United States. Approximately 50,000 of these burn victims require hospitalization and 20,000 suffer major burns covering 25% of their body surface. Roughly 4,500 burn victims die annually as a result of their injuries and as many as 10,000 people in the United States die each year as a result of burn-related infections.

These statistics are scary, but they demonstrate the devastating consequences of burn injuries and the importance of prevention. There are many different types of burns, and it is important to know how each is classified.

First degree burns are burns to the top layer of the skin. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and pain to touch. There are usually no blisters, and healing usually occurs in 3-5 days. Sunburn is a first degree burn. Other examples of first degree burns include exposure to flash flames or minor scalding from exposure to hot liquid.


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