Burns sustained in combat explosions in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF explosion burns)

David S. Kauvar, Steven E. Wolf, Charles E. Wade, Leopoldo C. Cancio, Evan M. Renz, John B. Holcomb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Background: Burns comprise 5% of casualties evacuated from Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom (OIF and OEF). Many OIF/OEF burns result from the enemy's detonation of explosives. We reviewed these to evaluate mission impact and provide recommendations for improved combat burn protection. Data were compared to those from the Vietnam War. Methods: All OIF/OEF patients with significant burns are treated at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (ISR). A review from April 2003 to April 2005 was undertaken. Records were obtained and demographics, burn severity and pattern, and early outcomes recorded. Results: Two hundred and seventy-four OIF/OEF burn patients were treated, 142 (52%) sustained burns in explosions from hostile action. Age was 26 ± 7 years (mean ± S.D.). Mortality was 4%. The annual rate of combat explosion as a cause for burns increased from 18% to 69%, total body surface area burned increased from 15 ± 12 to 21 ± 23%, injury severity score rose from 8 ± 11 to 17 ± 18, and frequency of inhalation injury rose from 5% to 26%. Improvised explosive devices caused 55% of casualties, car bombs 16%, rocket-propelled grenades 15% and 14% other. The hands (80% of patients) and the face (77%) were the most frequently burned body areas. Burns were isolated to the hands in 6% of patients and to the face and hands in 15%. An average of 52 ± 30% of the surface area of the hands and 45 ± 26% of the face was burned. Mean length of stay was 24 ± 25 days (median 14). Though 77% of patients were discharged without global disability, only 36% returned to full military duty. A similar pattern of injury and disposition was seen at the Army burn center in Vietnam (1966-1968), but mortality was higher (7.9%). Conclusion: Burns resulting from combat explosions increased in frequency, size and injury severity. Burns were concentrated on areas not protected by clothing or equipment. These injuries created long hospital stays and frequently prevented soldiers from returning to duty. While wound distribution has not changed, combat burn care has improved, and continued emphasis on military protective equipment for the hands and face is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)853-857
Number of pages5
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Burns
  • Epidemiology
  • Military trauma
  • Prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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