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Dealing with firecrackers, injuries and tetanus

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Medicine Cabinet — Reiner W. Gloor

THE AUTHOR wishes all the readers a happy holiday season and is sad and perplexed that during these festivities, many children suffer from injuries due to fireworks, firecrackers and even bullets raining from the sky as people shoot into the air not thinking that the bullets will eventually come straight down and could possible hurt someone. I almost got hit like this once. I sat at my lanai and just after I left the chair I heard a strange sound hit the roof. When I checked it out, I found a bullet which pierced through the roof and landed on the chair I had just been occupying moments ago.

Dealing with firecrackers, injuries and tetanus
A boy injured by a firecracker weeps at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila early on Jan. 1, 2014, after new year’s celebrations. — AFP

The number of injured during the holidays in the Philippines is far higher than the injuries you read about occurring in countries where they have regular demonstrations and even riots. While we have all the laws and regulation not to sell these deadly firecrackers, they are still easily available and, of course, kids find it amusing to play with them and possibly scare people.

It is up to our law enforcers to see that sales of these items are stopped. Properly managed fireworks of course are the delight of everyone, even if many of our foreign visitors have difficulty understanding this.

It looks like this year we already had our first casualty. A 10-year-old boy in Dingras, Ilocos Norte was badly hurt and almost severed three fingers on his left hand following the premature explosion of a piccolo he lighted up on Nov. 27.

The unnamed boy was brought to the Dingras District Hospital, and was transferred later to the Gov. Roque B. Ablan, Sr. Memorial Hospital in Laoag, according to the Department of Health (DoH) Health Emergency Management Service.

The doctors eventually managed to save his left hand.

This week, the DoH is launching its annual Iwas Paputok (avoid firecrackers), a campaign to raise and focus awareness on the dangers and risk of using firecrackers. Together with the DoH on the Iwas Paputok campaign are government agencies such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Fire Protection, and local government units.

Under the Republic Act (RA) No. 7183 (An Act Regulating the Sale, Manufacture, Distribution, and Use of Firecrackers), the manufacture, sale, distribution, and use of certain types of firecrackers and designated pyrotechnic devices that could endanger lives and limbs — such as the big triangulo and super lolo, and similar firecrackers — are prohibited.

Despite the aggressive educational and information drive by the DoH and its partners, Filipinos still insist on welcoming the new year with fireworks such as the popular piccolo, five star, pla-pla, luces, and boga — an improvised canon made from PVC pipes.

Instead of individuals using fireworks, the DoH is seeking a compromise to accommodate the tradition of using firecrackers to greet the new year via organized public firework displays among community members, supervised by proper authorities.

The DoH reported that firecrackers-related injuries from December 2014 to January 2015 decreased by 16% compared to same period in the 2013-2014 period.

The DoH reported 860 cases of fireworks-related injuries between Dec. 21, 2014 to Jan. 5, 2015. The figure was lower by 146 cases (14%) compared with the annual average during same period of the past five years (2009-2013).

Of the total number of cases, about 840 were injuries due to fireworks, seven due to fireworks ingestion, and 13 from stray bullets. Under its system and protocol of accounting for and listing firecrackers-related injuries, the DoH also includes cases of people hit by stray bullets.

Twenty-five percent of those injured in 2014-2015 were children ages 6 to 10 years old, and 22% were children ages 11 to 15.

Firecrackers-related injuries are generally lacerations, amputations, burns, and eye injuries. Aside from amputations, eye injury is one of the most disabling. These may possibly lead to eventual permanent visual loss, enucleation (loss of an eye), or blindness.

Under Iwas Paputok, the PNP strictly monitors all areas where illegal firecrackers may be sold, such public markets and around schools. The PNP can confiscate all illegal firecrackers being sold and those caught selling these are charged.

RA 7183 also permits the PNP chief to determine what other firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices can be added to the existing list of prohibited devices.

The DoH and its 50 sentinel hospitals around the country are most concerned with tetanus infections among those injured by firecrackers. Health officials and medical experts have repeatedly called on firecrackers victims to see doctors as soon as possible and receive injections of tetanus toxoid and tetanus anti-toxin.

Among the symptoms of a tetanus infection are high fever, lockjaw, difficulties in swallowing and breathing, seizure, and muscle spasms.

Do not take chances. Do not gamble with your life. Small wounds or cuts caused by firecrackers are possible are entry points for tetanus-causing bacteria.

Log on to www.phap.org.ph and www.phapcares.org.ph. E-mail the author at reiner.gloor@gmail.com.