One in 20 gunshot victims in Oakland, California died within five years of being released from the trauma center that treated them, according to a new study.

In the study, published on November 19 in the journal Injury Prevention, doctors at Highland Hospital in Oakland compared the mortality rates of three groups of patients treated there in 2007: nearly 1,000 had been in motor vehicle accidents, 695 were victims of assault without a firearm, and 516 had suffered gunshot wounds.

The study authors found that 9 percent of those who entered with a gunshot wound died in the hospital, compared with less than 1 percent of those in the other two groups. When they examined this group of patients five years after being released from the hospital, another 24 of the gunshot wound victims (5 percent of that patient group) had died — 19 of them in gun homicides. Within the same five-year period, 35 (or five percent) of those who’d suffered non-firearms assaults and 31 (3 percent) of those who’d been in vehicle crashes had also died. Unlike the gunshot victims, a majority of the survivors in those larger groups weren’t subsequently being killed in murders. Only two of the assault victims and two of the auto accident survivors died from gun homicides.

“It comes down to this: If you’re shot, you’re more likely to die,” says the lead author of the study, Dr. Jahan Fahimi, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of California San Francisco.

The study corroborated early findings: gunshot wound victims in urban areas are predominantly young minority males. Of the hospital’s initial group of gunshot survivors, 89 percent of the victims were male, their average age was 23, and 94 percent were black or Hispanic. Gun homicide rates are highest for black men between 18 and 24, but, Fahimi says, people in their 20s otherwise tend to be in prime physical health. He notes that the mortality rate of gunshot victims found in the study mirrors that of people living with a chronic disease.

“If you’re shot and walked out of the hospital, you should have lived afterwards,” Fahimi said. “But a 5 percent mortality rate in your 20s — that’s pretty striking and on the same level as some cancers affecting that age group.” According to the CDC, average mortality rates for those in their mid-20s hover around 1 percent.

Fahimi and his colleagues plan to replicate the experiment in other locations across the country to examine the health and socioeconomic factors that might fuel the spiked mortality rates. “What’s driving these deaths?” asks Fahimi. “Is it high risk networks? Unemployment? Lack of education? Lack of family support? If it’s something modifiable, it’s important to get them this help.”

[Photo: Flickr user Allan Foster]