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Keywords:

  • chest trauma;
  • epidemiology;
  • paediatric;
  • thoracic injury

Aim:  Paediatric chest trauma is a marker of severe injury and a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. However, current trends in the Australian population are unknown. This study aims to outline the profile and management of major paediatric chest trauma in Victoria.

Methods:  Prospectively collected data of patients from the Victorian State Trauma Registry from July 2001 to June 2007 were retrospectively reviewed. Data on fatalities were obtained from the National Coroners Information System. Descriptive statistics were used to summarise the profiles of major trauma cases and coroners' cases.

Results:  Overall, 204 cases with serious paediatric chest injuries were reported by the Victorian State Trauma Registry (n = 158) and National Coroners Information System (n = 46) (excluding overlapping cases) in 2001–2007. Paediatric chest trauma was more common in males. The Injury Severity Score ranged from 16 to 25 in most patients. Blunt trauma was responsible for 96% of cases, of which motor vehicle collisions accounted for 75%. Median hospitalisation was 9 days, and 64% of patients were admitted to intensive care. Common injuries included lung contusion (66%), haemo/pneumothorax (32%) and rib fracture (23%). Multiple organ injury occurred in 99% of cases, with head (62%) and abdominal (50%) injury common. Management was conservative, with only 11 cases (7%) treated surgically. The highest mortality was in the 10–15-year age group. In 52 (79%) fatalities, injury was transport related.

Conclusion:  Australian paediatric chest trauma trends are similar to international patterns. Serious injury requiring surgical intervention is rare. This limited exposure may lead to difficulty in maintaining surgical expertise in this highly specialised area.