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Journal Article


Velmahos GC, Degiannis E, Hart K, Souter I, Saadia R. J. Trauma 1995; 38(3): 334-337.


Department of Surgery, Baragwanath Hospital, University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, Johannesburg, South Africa.


(Copyright © 1995, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins)






OBJECTIVE: The changing profiles of spinal cord injuries in South Africa are addressed in this study. DESIGN: A retrospective analysis of 551 patients with spinal cord injury. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The cause of injury was motor vehicle crashes in 30%, stab wounds in 26%, gunshot wounds in 35%, and miscellaneous causes 9%. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: There was a significant shift from stab wounds towards bullet wounds over the last five years. Bullet spinal cord injuries increased from 30 cases in 1988 to 55 cases in 1992, while stab spinal cord injuries decreased from 39 cases in 1988 to 20 cases in 1992. The incidence of spinal cord injuries following a motor vehicle crash showed a declining tendency after a transient increase (28 cases in 1988, 40 in 1990, 31 in 1992). Moreover, the problem of severe septic complications has been investigated and various risk factors for sepsis that might impair the rehabilitation process have been examined. The risk of developing septic complications was higher in gunshot spine injuries (21 cases out of 193) than in knife injuries (5 cases out of 143). The presence of a retained bullet did not seem to increase the chances for sepsis. In seven patients the sepsis was the direct consequence of the retained bullet while in 14 patients sepsis developed with no bullet in situ. Furthermore, the site of the injury (cervical, thoracic, lumbar spine) did not correlate with the abovementioned risks. CONCLUSIONS: Gunshots carry a heavier prognosis. Only 32% of our gunshot cases underwent a significant recovery as opposed to 61% of stab cases and 44% of the motor vehicle crash victims.


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