Pediatric firearm injury is a leading cause of death and disability in the youth of the United States. The epidemiology of and outcomes following gunshot wounds to the head (GSWHs) are in need of systematic characterization. Here, the authors analyzed pediatric GSWHs from a population-based sample to identify predictors of prolonged hospitalization, morbidity, and death.
All patients younger than 18 years of age and diagnosed with a GSWH in the National Sample Program (NSP) of the National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) in 2003–2012 were eligible for inclusion in this study. Variables of interest included injury intent, firearm type, site of incident, age, sex, race, health insurance, geographic region, trauma center level, isolated traumatic brain injury (TBI), hypotension in the emergency department, Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score, and Injury Severity Score (ISS). Risk predictors for a prolonged hospital stay, morbidity, and mortality were identified. Odds ratios, mean increases or decreases (B), and 95% confidence intervals were reported. Statistical significance was assessed at α < 0.001 accounting for multiple comparisons.
In a weighted sample of 2847 pediatric patients with GSWHs, the mean age was 14.8 ± 3.3 years, 79.2% were male, and 59.0% had severe TBI (GCS score 3–8). The mechanism of assault (63.0%), the handgun as firearm (45.6%), and an injury incurred in a residential area (40.6%) were most common. The mean hospital length of stay was 11.6 ± 14.4 days for the survivors, for whom suicide injuries involved longer hospitalizations (B = 5.9-day increase, 95% CI 3.3–8.6, p < 0.001) relative to those for accidental injuries. Mortality was 45.1% overall but was greater with injury due to suicidal intent (mortality 71.5%, p < 0.001) or caused by a shotgun (mortality 56.5%, p < 0.001). Lower GCS scores, higher ISSs, and emergency room hypotension predicted poorer outcomes. Patients with private insurance had lower mortality odds than those with Medicare/Medicaid (OR 2.4, 95% CI 1.7–3.4, p < 0.001) or government insurance (OR 3.6, 95% CI 2.2–5.8, p < 0.001). Management at level II centers, compared to level I, was associated with lower odds of returning home (OR 0.3, 95% CI 0.2–0.5, p < 0.001).
From 2003 to 2012, with regard to pediatric TBI hospitalizations due to GSWHs, their proportion remained stable, those caused by accidental injuries decreased, and those attributable to suicide increased. Overall mortality was 45%. Hypotension, cranial and overall injury severity, and suicidal intent were associated with poor prognoses. Patients treated at level II trauma centers had lower odds of being discharged home. Given the spectrum of risk factors that predispose children to GSWHs, emphasis on screening, parental education, and standardization of critical care management is needed to improve outcomes.