Original ArticleLightning Fatalities on the South African Highveld A Retrospective Descriptive Study for the Period 1997 to 2000Blumenthal, Ryan MBChB (Pret), dip For Med (SA) Author Information From the Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa. Manuscript received August 11, 2004; accepted November 24, 2004. Reprints: Ryan Blumenthal, MBChB (Pret), dip For Med (SA), Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Pretoria, PO Box 2034, Pretoria 0001, South Africa. E-mail: [email protected]. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 26(1):p 66-69, March 2005. | DOI: 10.1097/01.paf.0000154115.12168.46 Buy Metrics Abstract A review of the Southern Africa medical literature shows a paucity of published data regarding lightning fatalities. The South African Highveld has a lightning ground flash density of 6 to 9 flashes/km2/year, with a high incidence of thunderstorm days per year (some 40–70). The Highveld has a largely urban population, many of whom have low socioeconomic status and poor education, housing, and other infrastructures and hence (possibly) are at greater exposure risk. Thirty-eight victims of lightning-related death were identified from the records of the 6 large medicolegal mortuaries on the South African Highveld, serving a population of approximately 7 million, for the period 1997 to 2000. Analysis of the records revealed that 95% of all victims were black, 79% were male, and the average age was 36 years. Lightning strikes occurred from September through to April (normal summer rainfall period), and the most strikes took place in the late afternoon (3:00 pm to 6:00 pm). All except 1 case occurred outdoors. In the autopsy reports, mention was made of singeing of hair in 68% of cases, and mention of damage to clothing was made in 26% of cases. Cutaneous thermal injuries were noted in 34 of the 38 cases, with apparent electrothermal injuries of the feet noted in 4 cases. Fifty-two percent of victims sustained some form of associated blunt-force injury (including abrasions, contusions, etc). Specific keraunopathologic injuries were described in only 2 of the cases. Twenty-one cases had some form of internal organ injury. This study serves to illustrate the relatively high incidence of lightning strikes in the region and calls for a more systematic and detailed investigative protocol in lightning-related deaths. © 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.