Sharp force fatalities at the Pretoria Medico-Legal Laboratory, 2012–2013

  • Lorraine du Toit-Prinsloo University of Pretoria
  • Laura Mitton University of Pretoria
Keywords: Epidemiology, sharp force injuries


Background: South Africa’s crude death rate was recorded as the highest in the world in 2014. In 2013, 47 murders occurred daily nationwide, and it was confirmed that sharp force fatalities were frequent events. The aim of our study was to review the fatalities of persons admitted to the Pretoria Medico-Legal Laboratory over a two-year period. Understanding the magnitude of the problem, identifying the most commonly injured area and the mechanism of death in cases where the patient died in hospital could aid in the clinical management of some of these cases in order to reduce mortality.

Method: A retrospective descriptive case audit was conducted at the Pretoria Medico-Legal Laboratory from January 2012 through to December 2013.

Results: A total of 173 applicable cases were included. These comprised 5% of the annual case load. Most of the injured persons were male (84%) and aged 21–30 years (50%). Only 27 (16%) decedents were hospitalised and 12 (44%) survived for ≥ 1 day. The most predominantly injured area on the body was the thoracic area (65% of cases). Positive alcohol concentration in the blood was reported in 109 (66%) cases (a range of 0.01 g/100ml to 0.35 g/100ml). Exsanguination was the leading mechanism of death (85% of cases).

Conclusion: Compared with various international regions, an exceptionally higher percentage of these fatalities occur in Pretoria, South Africa. Most stab wounds penetrated the body’s thoracic region, consequently perforating the heart and lungs, resulting in immediate death. The proportion of hospital fatalities of patients who sustained abdominal and extremity injuries, and who had already survived ≥ 1 day, was a worrying finding into which further research is required. It is surprising that these patients mostly succumbed to blood loss.

Author Biographies

Lorraine du Toit-Prinsloo, University of Pretoria

MBChB, DipForMed(SA)Path, FCForPath(SA), MMed(Path)(Forens)
Department of Forensic Medicine
University of Pretoria


Laura Mitton, University of Pretoria

University of Pretoria

How to Cite
du Toit-Prinsloo, L., & Mitton, L. (2016). Sharp force fatalities at the Pretoria Medico-Legal Laboratory, 2012–2013. South African Journal of Surgery, 54(2), 21-27. Retrieved from
Trauma Surgery