Recent power shortages in California resulted in rolling blackouts and increased utility prices. Residents turned to alternative heating devices, such as space heaters, to decrease utility bills. Our hypothesis is that the incidence of heater-related injuries increased owing to the use of alternative heating methods during the power crisis.
Retrospective case-series database and medical record review of all burn admissions for the 4 months of November through February for the period 1998-2002.
Regional pediatric and adult burn unit in northern California.
Patients admitted during the study interval with burn injury.
Main Outcome Measures
Parameters recorded included patient demographics, cause of burn, total body surface area burn, number of operative procedures, and hospital length of stay during each of the 4 months in the interval.
A total of 512 patients were admitted during all 4-month intervals. During the power crisis there were significant increases in the number of hospital admissions (151 in 2000-2001 vs 117 in 1998-1999, 124 in 1999-2000, and 152 in 2001-2002) and heater-related burn admissions (36 in 2000-2001 vs 25 in 1998-1999, 26 in 1999-2000, and 29 in 2001-2002). The percentage total body surface area burn (mean ± SEM, 24.0% ± 4.6% in 2000-2001 vs 16.5% in 1998-1999, 12.3% in 1999-2000, and 12.0% in 2001-2002), hospital length of stay (15.0 days in 2000-2001 vs 9.9 days in 1998-1999, 12.3 days in 1999-2000, and 7.0 days 2001-2002), and the number of operations (55 in 2000-2001 vs 7 in 1998-1999, 18 in 1999-2000, and 19 in 2001-2002) also increased during the crisis.
The number of heater-related burn admissions, as well as their magnitude, increased during the energy crisis, resulting in increased resource use and health care costs. The economic stresses of the power shortage had societal costs that extended far beyond the price of electricity.