Incidence and characteristics of non-accidental burns in children: A systematic review

Marie Louise H.J. Loos, Cornelia A.M. Almekinders, Martijn W. Heymans, Annebeth de Vries, Roel Bakx

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: The estimated incidence of non-accidental burns varies between 1–25% in children. Distinguishing non-accidental burns from accidental burns can be very complicated but is of utmost importance for prevention of future injuries. Several studies concerning non-accidental burns have been published, however a clear overview is lacking. Aim: To conduct a systematic review of the existing literature to identify the incidence and characteristics of burns due to intentional causes and neglect. Methods: The protocol of this systematic review was prospectively registered in an international database (PROSPERO, National Institute for Health Research, York, United Kingdom). We searched literature in electronic databases published from 1948 until July 2018 written in English, Dutch, German and French. Two researchers screened, selected and graded the included articles, using standard methodology. We included primary studies of confirmed non-accidental burns in children. We excluded literature reviews, case-reports and unpublished data. We extracted data regarding demographics, burn characteristics, Child Protective Services (CPS) referral information and parent/household characteristics. Results: 825 studies were screened, 17 were included. The incidence of non-accidental burns was pooled out of 10 studies and is 9.7%. Indicators raising a very high suspicion of intentional burns are deep partial thickness and full thickness burns, burns to the posterior trunk and burns caused by hot tap water. Indicators raising a high to moderate suspicion of an intentional cause are burns to buttocks, genital and legs, a younger age of the child, additional injuries such as cutaneous injuries/bruises and fractures. More commonly caused by accidents are burns to head, neck, anterior trunk, upper extremities and feet. Little data are available regarding burns as a result of neglect. Quality of studies was often low to moderate mostly due to a high heterogeneity. This review is mainly based on retrospective studies. Conclusion: From this review of the literature, the incidence of non-accidental burns in children was 9.7%. Indicators raising a very high suspicion of intentional burns are: location at the posterior trunk, deep partial thickness and full thickness burns and burns caused by hot tap water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1243-1253
Number of pages11
Issue number6
Early online date1 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Child abuse
  • Indicators
  • Intentional burns
  • Non-accidental burns
  • Systematic review

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