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Repeated unexpected infant deaths most likely to be from natural causes

The most comprehensive epidemiological study to date into recurring sudden unexplained infant death syndrome (SIDS) is published in this week's issue of THE LANCET. Authors of the study conclude that natural causes can explain the deaths of a second or even third unexpected infant death occurring in the same family.

There have been suggestions that when two or three unexpected unexplained infant deaths occur within a family they are more likely to be unnatural than natural. Robert Carpenter (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK) and colleagues assessed the proportion of natural and unnatural infant deaths (ie, deaths before the age of 1 year), occurring in families enrolled on a support programme for parents who had previously experienced SIDS.

The Care of Next Infant programme (CONI) supports parents who have experienced SIDS and is currently available in over 90% of health districts in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The investigators studied all deaths in 6373 infants who had completed the CONI programme by December, 1999. After a CONI death, detailed enquiries were made into the previous death and the CONI death, including a family interview, a review of autopsies, and case discussion.

57 (8.9 per 1000) CONI infants died. Nine deaths were inevitable, and 48 were unexpected. 44 families lost one child, and two families lost two children. Of the 46 first CONI deaths, 40 were natural; the other six were probable homicides, five committed by one or both parents (two criminally convicted). Enquiries identified 18 families with two SIDS deaths and two families with probable covert double homicides.

Professor Carpenter comments: "Our data suggest that second deaths are not rare and that the majority, 8090%, are natural. Families who have experienced three unexpected deaths also occur. The study included two families in which there were two CONI deaths--one triple SIDS and one triple filicide."

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Contact: Joe Santangelo
j.santangelo@elsevier.com
1-212-633-3810
Lancet
30-Dec-2004


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