Medical consequences of terrorism: The conventional weapon threat

M. Stein*, A. Hirshberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


As long as gunpowder and explosives are used to solve disagreements between nations, ethnic groups, and individuals, victims of blast injury continue to arrive occasionally at trauma centers around the world. Bombs planted in crowded urban locations or suicide bombings continue to stress civilian EMS and urban medical systems. Although the clinical presentation depends on whether the blast occurs in open or confined quarters, open air, or water, the pattern of injury inflicted on the body is relatively consistent. The proximity to the detonating device is probably much more important than the size of the bomb. If not injured by secondary, tertiary, or other miscellaneous mechanisms of most conventional bombs with 1 to 20 kg of TNT, people at distances exceeding 6 m will probably not experience substantial blast-induced injury. Three systems are prone to injury. The first is the auditory system, with damage to the eardrum in milder cases and inner-ear injury in more severe cases. The alimentary tract with contusions, hematoma, and occasional perforation of a hollow viscus is the second system involved. Solid organs are rarely damaged in survivors of blast injury. Close proximity to the blast can impose traumatic amputation of limbs (i.e., arms and legs) and ear lobes. Most of these victims succumb to their injuries in the immediate post-injury phase, but the hallmark of blast injury is the involvement of the respiratory system. With expeditious evacuation performed by efficiently coordinated and highly skilled EMS personnel, more patients with blast injuries arrive with signs of life to the medical facility. At the medical facility, the staff need to triage many victims into urgent and nonurgent groups. Only lifesaving procedures should be performed during the initial phase. Later, medical care is directed at patients moved to ICUs. Prompt evacuation after necessary lifesaving procedures in the field; proper triage and distribution; prudent hospital triage and surgical care; and, last but not least, expert critical care provide the best possible outcome in such circumstances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1537-1552
Number of pages16
JournalSurgical Clinics of North America
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1999


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