Forensic pathologists are frequently asked to describe the interval between injury and the onset of symptoms in child abuse head injury deaths. A prospective, postmortem study examined the interval between injury and onset of symptoms in 76 head injury deaths in which this information was available. The head injury deaths were divided by mechanism of injury. The mechanisms were shake (no impact), combined shake and blunt impact, and blunt impact (no history of shaking). The interval was less than 24 hours in 80% of shakes, 71.9% of combined, and 69.2% of blunt injuries. The interval was greater than 24 hours in more than 25% of each of these latter groups and was more than 72 hours in four children. The variable intervals between injury and severe symptoms warrant circumspection in describing the interval for investigators or triers of fact. It should be noted that in all of the cases where information was supplied by someone other than the perpetrator, the child was not normal during the interval.
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