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Characteristics of non-fatal abusive head trauma among children in the USA, 2003–2008: application of the CDC operational case definition to national hospital inpatient data


Objective An International Classification of Diseases code-based case definition for non-fatal abusive head trauma (AHT) in children <5 years of age was developed in March 2008 by an expert panel convened at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This study presents an application of the CDC recommended operational case definition of AHT to US hospital inpatient data to characterise the AHT hospitalisation rate for children <5 years of age.

Methods Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS) data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilisation Project from 2003 to 2008 were examined.

Results Inspection of the NIS data resulted in the identification of an estimated 10 555 non-fatal AHT hospitalisations with 9595 classified as definite/presumptive AHT and 960 classified as probable AHT. The non-fatal AHT rate was highest among children aged <1 year (32.3 per 100 000) with a peak in hospitalisations between 1 and 3 months of age. Non-fatal AHT hospitalisation rates for children <2 years of age were higher for boys (21.9 per 100 000) than girls (15.3 per 100 000). The non-fatal AHT hospitalisation rate showed little variation across seasons.

Conclusions To reduce the burden of AHT in the USA, a preventable public health problem, concerted prevention efforts targeting populations at risk should be implemented. This report demonstrates a model procedure for using the new CDC definition for public health surveillance and research purposes. Such findings can be used to inform parents and providers about AHT (eg, dangers of shaking, strategies for managing infant crying) as well as to monitor better the impact of prevention strategies over time.

  • Child abuse
  • descriptive epidemiology
  • traumatic brain injury

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