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ROCHESTER, Minn. – Ice fishing might seem like a benign sport – for everyone except the fish. Sitting in a cozy shanty waiting for a bite, what could go wrong? A lot, Mayo Clinic surgeons have found. The ice fishing injuries they have chronicled seem more like a casualty list from an extreme sport: burns, broken bones, concussions and more. The findings are published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.
The study team analyzed data on emergency department visits between 2009 and 2014 obtained from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System ─ All Injury Program and found 85 patients hurt while ice fishing. There may be more cases than they could find; the database collects data on emergency room visits from a nationally representative sample of roughly 100 hospitals with six or more beds, and the researchers had to search case narratives to identify ice fishing injuries.
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Most of the 85 patients were treated and released. Roughly 11 percent were injured so severely they had to be admitted to the hospital.
“Falling through the ice is the most feared risk of ice fishing,” says lead author Cornelius Thiels, D.O., a surgical resident at Mayo Clinic. “However, it turns out that burns are just as common, but rarely discussed. Ice fishing huts often contain rudimentary heating systems, and we have seen injuries from fires and carbon monoxide inhalation. We hope this research will bring awareness to the safety issues that surround this pastime and help prevent similar incidents.”Nearly half of the injuries were orthopedic or musculoskeletal: broken bones, sprains and strains. Just over one-third involved minor trauma, such as cuts, abrasions, punctures and fishing hook injuries. There were five cases of major trauma, a category that includes concussions, loss of an appendage and organ injuries.
Four anglers were injured falling into cold water: two in December and two in March. Four were burned, likely due to the heating systems they were using, the study found.
The researchers also looked for differences between injured ice anglers and people hurt while fishing on open water. Intoxication was likelier to be reported with ice fishing injuries. Those harmed while ice fishing were likelier to have injuries to the torso or lower half of the body, and to have more serious injuries. Both groups were similar in age and gender: Most injured anglers were men under 40.
“Ice fishing has become more popular in the last few years, and, with this, we have seen an increase in ice fishing-related injuries,” Dr. Thiels says. “What is even more concerning is that ice fishing injuries tend to be more severe than injuries associated with traditional fishing.”
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