Researchers in the UK have found a link between cot death and a rare stomach infection, and are cautioning parents to practice 'good hygiene' when handling babies. Babies who died from SIDS were found to have a much higher rate of Helicobacter pylori infection than other children. However scientists are still unsure how the bacterium could cause cot death.
The average incidence of SIDS in Australia is now about one in a thousand live births - a major improvement since 1990 when one in five hundred babies died of SIDS. Recent research has shown that the risk of SIDS has been at least halved by changing some child care practices, such as sleeping babies on their backs. However mystery still surrounds why seemingly healthy babies suddenly fall victim to the condition.
Researchers from the Manchester Royal Infirmary studied the bodies of 32 babies under seven months old who had died from SIDS, and compared them to eight babies who have died of other known causes.
They found genes indicating the likelihood of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes a stomach inflammation called type B gastritus, in 28 of the 32 babies. The bacterium is associated with peptic ulcers and gastric cancer, and affects only 2% of the population in the developed world.
The researchers claim the results are 'highly significant', however they are still unsure as to how an infection can cause death. Theories stated include the combination of the infection and overheating being dangerous.
Another theory is that the infection causes inflammation and large amounts of urease - the chief waste product discharged from the body in urine. Large amounts of urease could trigger production of ammonia in the baby's underdeveloped immune system. Unable to be dispelled by the liver, the ammonia stays in the baby's system and could be fatal. The presence of urease in the lungs may also account for the fact that many SIDS victims are found to have lung abnormalities after death.
Dr Jonothan Kerr, one of the report's authors, said: 'The transfer of saliva from carers to the mouths of babies should be prevented. Feeding bottles and pacifiers should not be sucked by carers.'
However, Joyce Epstein, director of The Foundation for the Study of Infant Death (FSID) has said, 'These are interesting findings that may help explain why overwrapping, front sleeping and minor infections may create difficulties for babies. It is only a hypothesis at this stage and it is uncertain whether this study has any practical implications'.
Kaarene Fitzgerald, National Secretary for The National SIDS Council of Australia supports this statement, and reinforces the important message for parents is that they follow the proven guidelines , which are:
Well known babycare author Robyn Barker advises that there are many reasons why you shouldn't suck dummies before putting them in your baby's mouth, and that it is generally an unsafe practice. It introduces a whole range of bacteria into your baby's mouth which can sometimes be dangerous, but more importantly, parents should be aware - it doesn't clean the dummy.