Background: Lightning strikes are rare but potentially lethal. The risk for suffering a lightning strike in a mountain environment is unknown. The aim of this nationwide study was to analyse all lightning accidents in the Austrian Alps from 2005 to 2015, to assess the circumstances of the accident, the injury pattern as well as the outcome.
Methods: From 2005 to 2015, data from the national Austrian Alpine Police database as well as the Clinical Information System of Innsbruck Medical University Hospital were searched for the keywords lightning injury, lightning strike, lightning as well as ICD-10 Code T75.0. Additionally, the archive data of Innsbruck Medical University Hospital was searched manually.
Results: The Austrian Alpine Police database, containing 109.168 patients for the years 2005-2015, was screened for lightning accidents. Sixty-four patients had been hit by lightning in the Austrian Alps, 54 were male. Four persons died on scene; survival rate was 93.8%. Two deceased persons were hunters, who were killed by the same lightning strike. Sixty-three patients suffered a lightning strike while doing a recreational activity, mostly hiking (n = 55), a few hunting and only one doing occupational timberwork. Sixty-three patients suffered a lightning strike between June and August with nearly half (46.9%) of the accidents happening on a Saturday or Sunday, and mainly (95.3%) between 12:00 and 22:00 h.
Discussion: Persons who perform recreational outdoor and occupational activities in an alpine environment during summer and after noon incur a higher risk of sustaining a lightning strike. The primary risk group includes young male mountaineers and hunters. The mortality rate was low.
Trial registration: The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Medical University of Innsbruck (AN4757 315/4.4) and retrospectively registered with Clinical Trials NCT03405467 , January 19, 2018.
Keywords: Electric injuries; Emergency medicine; Lightning; Lightning injury.