Morbidity and mortality in the wilderness

West J Med. 1998 Apr;168(4):248-54.


The medical literature is limited regarding current wilderness morbidity and mortality statistics. Available studies concentrate on selected wilderness activities. This study retrospectively examines wilderness injuries, illnesses, and mortality based on case incident report files from eight National Park Service parks within California over a three-year period. Data were extracted regarding type of illness or injury, body area affected, age, gender, month in which the event occurred, and activity in which the victim was involved at the time of the event. The overall occurrence of nonfatal events was 9.2 people per 100,000 visits. More than 70% of all nonfatal events were related to musculoskeletal or soft-tissue injury. The most frequently involved body area was the lower limbs (38%). Seventy-eight mortalities occurred during the three years studied, resulting in an overall mortality rate of 0.26 deaths per 100,000 visits. Men accounted for 78% of the deaths. Heart disease, drowning and falls were the most common causes of death. The information and statistics on morbidity and mortality in California wilderness areas that this study provides may be used to guide future wilderness use, education, and management. A standardized, computerized database would greatly facilitate future evaluations, decisions, and policies.

MeSH terms

  • California / epidemiology
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Male
  • Morbidity*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rural Health*
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality