Injuries in America

Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

Sept 3, 2004 -- Each year in the US, one in every six people requires medical treatment for an injury, and one in 10 people goes to a hospital emergency room for treatment of a nonfatal injury. This is according to the first national report on the magnitude of injuries. The report prepared by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) was based on data from the year 2001.

The Magnitude of the Problem

In 2001, approximately 157,000 persons in the US died from an injury. That is about 18 deaths per hour from injuries.

In 2001, approximately 29,700,000 persons with nonfatal injuries were treated in US hospital emergency departments. That is about 3,400 people treated every hour for injuries that were not fatal.

Fatality Rates

The overall fatality rate was 0.53%. In other words, about 1 in every 200 injuries was fatal. However, the fatality rates varied substantially by age, sex, intent, and mechanism of injury.

The fatality rates for older persons were higher than for younger persons.

The fatality rates were higher for males than females.

The fatality rates were higher for self-harm injuries than for assault and unintentional injuries.

And the fatality rates were highest for drowning, suffocation/inhalation, and firearm--related injuries.

Injury Rates

Fatal and nonfatal injury rates were higher for males than females and disproportionately affected younger and older persons.

For fatal injuries, 65% were unintentional, and 33% were violence-related (including homicides, legal intervention, and suicide).

For nonfatal injuries, 93% were unintentional, and 7% were violence-related (including assaults, legal intervention, and self-harm).

Causes of Injuries

Overall, the leading cause of fatal injury was unintentional motor-vehicle injuries.

The leading cause of nonfatal injury was unintentional falls.

For nonfatal injuries, the majority of injured persons were treated in emergency rooms for lacerations (26%), strains/sprains (20%), and contusions/abrasions (18%). The majority of the injuries were to the head and neck region (30%) and to the extremities, the arms and legs (48%).


Overall, 5.5% (a little over 1 in 20) of the people treated for nonfatal injuries in emergency rooms were hospitalized or transferred to another facility for specialized care.


Are Americans particularly accident-prone? It would help to know how all these figures compare to those from other countries. If other countries have lower injury rates, why do they? What can the US do to reduce the toll? And the cost?

Source: Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control Fact Sheet, September 2, 2004

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