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Doctors consider gunshot wounds a health epidemic

William Schwab hasn't ever gone to war, but the 51-year-old surgeon says he sometimes thinks he's in one.

"We average about 500 gunshot wounds a year," said Schwab, chief of critical care and trauma for the Hospital of the University of Pen-nsyl-vania."I trained in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam, and it's similar," he said. "Think of the phrase `incoming wounded.' That's what it's like."

A survey published in Sunday's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that 87 percent of surgeons and 94 percent of internists across the country believe it's time to consider gunshot wounds a public health epidemic - akin to AIDS, alcoholism and tobacco use.

Doctors should play a more active role in trying to prevent the injuries, an accompanying position paper says, whether it's supporting more stringent gun-control legislation or simply taking time to counsel patients.

The position paper predicted that bullets will kill more people than automobile accidents by 2003.

The authors also noted that more teens today die from gunshot wounds than from all natural causes combined, and that firearms in the home make homicide three times more likely.