MUMBAI: The misconception that steam inhalation can inhibit or kill the virus causing Covid-19 has led to a crisis of another kind: a significant increase in steam inhalation related scald burns both in children and adults. Some hospitals have seen between three to ten-fold rise in scald burns since May.
Accidental spillage of hot water while trying to take steam from an open vessel has been found to be the most common cause for such burns. In many cases, people have sustained up to 20% burns, at times requiring hospitalization for dressing under anaesthesia, according to doctors. In most cases, the burn victims were either themselves suffering from Covid-19 or someone in the family was. The recovery took a minimum of 14 days. Doctors at the Bombay Hospital in Marine Lines have treated seven instances of scalds in the last three months.
Plastic surgeon Dr Vinay Jacob said the issue warrants urgent awareness as the burns may be superficial, but they do involve rushing to a hospital and repeated visits for dressing. The injured had sustained between 10%-12% burns. At the Masina Hospital in Byculla, head of the unit Dr Arvind Vartak said there have been three cases of scalds. “There is an increase no doubt, surprisingly in adults too,” he said.
The rise has been noticeable at the National Burns Centre in Airoli also. Head Dr Sunil Keswani said the numbers have doubled from 4-5 scald burns they treated in pre-Covid times. “Cases of scald burns started rising since May with the fake WhatsApp messages that it helps in killing the virus,” he said, adding that of the 10 cases that came to the hospital every month. “The burns would be in the abdomen, genital area and thighs,” he said.
The common way to treat scald burns is by removing the burnt skin and applying a collagen-based (protein) dressing, all under anaesthesia. “For women with burns in the genital area, they have even required a catheter,” said Dr Keswani, adding that the actual numbers of such burns would be much higher as many were treated over phone. Dr Keswani said scalding accounted for over 60% of burns in children under 5 year and during Covid steam inhalation has been a leading cause.
Thane-based plastic surgeon Dr Medha Bhave treated 21 cases of burns at her hospital out of which six were major burns. Of the six major burns, four were in children.
Pune-based plastic surgeon Dr Swapna Athavale attended 10 such cases at the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in the past 90 days. Six of the 10 were children in the age group of two to 10 years. Of the 10, two had come positive for Covid.
An article in Lancet had highlighted how the burns centre at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, UK, had seen a 30-fold increase in the number of scalds directly resulting from steam inhalation.