Contribution of bacterial and viral infections to attributable mortality in patients with severe burns: An autopsy series

Laurie C. D'Avignon, Brian K. Hogan, Clinton K. Murray, Florence L. Loo, Duane R. Hospenthal, Leopoldo C. Cancio, Seung H. Kim, Evan M. Renz, David Barillo, John B. Holcomb, Charles E. Wade, Steven E. Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Bacterial infections are a common cause of mortality in burn patients and viral infections, notably herpes simplex virus (HSV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) have also been associated with mortality. This study is a retrospective review of all autopsy reports from patients with severe thermal burns treated at the US Army Institute of Research (USAISR) burn unit over 12 years. The review focused on those patients with death attributed to a bacterial or viral cause by autopsy report. Of 3751 admissions, 228 patients died with 97 undergoing autopsy. Death was attributed to bacteria for 27 patients and to virus for 5 patients. Bacterial pathogens associated with mortality included Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus. This association with mortality was independent of % total body surface area burn, % full-thickness burn, inhalation injury, and day of death post-burn. Bloodstream infection was the most common cause of bacteria related death (50%), followed by pneumonia (44%) and wound infection (6%). Time to death following burn was ≤7 days in 30%, ≤14 days in 59% and ≤21 days in 67%. All of the viral infections associated with mortality involved the lower respiratory tract, HSV for 4 and CMV for 1. Four of these 5 patients had evidence of inhalation injury by bronchoscopy, all had facial and neck burns, and 2 had concomitant Staphylococcus pneumonia. Time to death following burn ranged from 14 to 42 days for the 5 patients. Despite advances in care, gram negative bacterial infections and infection with S. aureus remain the most common cause of bacteria related mortality early in the hospital course. Viral infections are also associated with mortality and numbers have remained stable when compared to data from prior years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)773-779
Number of pages7
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Autopsy
  • Bacteria
  • Burn
  • Infection
  • Mortality
  • Virus


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