Effective prevention of burn injury should be based on sound aetiological knowledge. This article deals with epidemiological methods to study the incidence of burn injury as a function of its risk factors. Central methodological issues are comparability of baseline prognosis, comparability of measurements (of effects in cohort studies and of risk factors in case-control studies), and comparability of external circumstances. These principles are clarified with a number of fictitious examples of risk factors for burn injury. It is explained that in preventive trials comparability may be achieved by randomization, blinding and placebo intervention. The main tools in non-experimental studies are deliberate selection and multivariate analysis. Special attention is given to the definition of the source population and to reducing measurement incomparability in case-control studies. Some well-designed case-control studies following these principles might bring effective prevention of burn injury some steps nearer. © 1989.
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