Arizona burn center sees rise in injuries due to extreme heat

Jun 29, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 6:04 am

Sign warning about heat at Phoenix hiking trail...

Heat warning graphic at hiking trail. (KTAR News Photo)

(KTAR News Photo)


PHOENIX — Arizona’s only burn center has seen a rise in the number of people being admitted for contact burn injuries over the past three years. Now, Valleywise Health’s Arizona Burn Center is highlighting the dangers that come along with extreme heat. 

Last year, the burn center recorded 85 admissions from heat-related burn injuries over June, July and August. Seven of those patients died from their injuries. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Kevin Foster, director of the Arizona Burn Center, said this year, they’ve admitted around 15 to 20 patients and are currently taking care of 10 of them. 

Foster added the numbers are even higher if the number of patients that don’t require hospital admission is included. 

“For May and the first part of June, we actually didn’t have too many patients, and now that the temperatures have gotten to where they normally are this time of year, we are just busy as we can be right now,” Foster said. 

Foster explained when temperatures rise over the summer months, pavement that’s been in direct sunlight can reach 180 degrees – just below boiling temperature. 

“At that temperature, it only takes a fraction of a second to get a second-degree burn, and exposure to a minute or longer results in a third-degree burn,” Foster said. 

Some burns from the pavement can require ICU care and multiple surgeries, according to Foster.

“Patients also suffer systemic manifestations of heat exposure… heat shock, heat protestation, we’ve seen a number of patients who have a central nervous injury, brain damage, liver failure, renal failure,” Foster said. 

According to the hospital, there are two groups where they’ve seen an increase in the number of patients the burn center treats. Foster said one of those groups is the elderly because they struggle to get back up when they fall, leaving too much contact time between their skin and the hot pavement. 

“Many of them have problems with mobility and ambulation, many of them have other medical problems, sometimes it’s medication-related, and sometimes it’s just simply they’re more sensitive to the heat, and they just don’t tolerate it very well,” Foster said. 

Recently, the burn center started seeing an increase in the number of patients using drugs, specifically methamphetamine and Fentanyl. 

“The methamphetamine is contaminated with fentanyl, and that causes the people using the methamphetamine to become unconscious, and they fall down,” Foster said 

Foster said that oftentimes there is no one around to wake them up, leaving them with very severe Burns. 

He added the homeless are represented disproportionately, making up 30% of the burn centers patients for this year and 2022. Foster said people experiencing homelessness are typically challenging patients due to the severity of their injuries and finding a safe place to discharge them. 

Foster gave the following recommendations for protection from the summer heat:

  • Stay indoors in the afternoons.
  • Wear protective clothing such as hats shoes and long sleeve shirts when outside.
  • Do not put ice on burn injury. Let the injury cool down by using room-temperature water and wrapping it with a bandage. 

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Arizona burn center sees rise in injuries due to extreme heat