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Some Unusual Causes Of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

On the list of horrifying things that can happen to a family, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is near the top. SIDS occurs when a baby between the ages of one and six months mysteriously dies in its sleep. There are several causes for SIDS, and more are being discovered each year. Being suffocated by bedding is certainly one of them, as is being rolled on by parents and being a passive infant smoker. But there are two other reasons responsible for a significant number of unexplained infant deaths. Before World War Two, the number of SIDS (also called 'Crib Death') incidences was not very high.

There was a dramatic increase in the number after the War, and it took quite a while for researchers to identify the cause. Post-war, the industrially developed nations promulgated laws saying that crib mattresses had to be made fire retardant. Manufacturers achieved this by adding fire retarding chemicals to the mattress, which was a perfectly logical thing to do. However, strange and deadly consequences resulted from this. Common household bacteria and fungi such as scopulariopsis brevicaulis ate the fire-retardants (which were often antimony, phosphorus or arsenic) and emanated gaseous derivatives of the toxic phosphine (PH3), arsine (AsH3)[4] and stibine (SbH3) gases.

These gases are more lethal than some of the well-known nerve gases used by irresponsible countries in military warfare. Carbon monoxide is but a feeble joke compared to them. Body heat is what triggered the fungi to act. When urine, saliva and vomit leached into the mattress, the process went into high gear and even more gases were generated. These gases rose out of the mattress and formed a layer. If there was insufficient air circulation in the room, or if the crib had solid, raised sides, this layer resided on the surface of the mattress where the baby lay. The baby was thus enveloped in a cloud of poison. This phenomenon, which frequently occurs in the present day, also explains why SIDS reduces if babies sleep on their backs (as advocated by the American Academy of Pediatrics 13 years ago), because in that case they do not have their noses in the deadly gaseous soup. The remedy for this toxic gas problem is to create an impermeable barrier between the baby and the mattress, most simply achieved by wrapping the mattress with polyethylene sheet. The top and sides should be covered by folding down a single sheet, then folding it again under the mattress and fixing it there with sticking tape.

The bottom should not be airtight. Alternatively, readymade polyethylene slip-on mattress covers are inexpensively available from standard supply sources. Statistics have shown that such mattress-wrapping dramatically reduced the incidence of SIDS. It would also help to keep the head of the crib at a higher level than the foot, so that the gases are drained away from the baby's head area. The second significant cause of SIDS is vaccination. This cause is exemplified by the shocking example of a 17-month old, active girl who was given DPT, MMR and Hib vaccines in one sitting, only to die the same night. It is therefore worthwhile considering avoiding these vaccines to the extent feasible. This article is for information purposes only. Do not take any decisions relating to your baby's health without the concurrence of a competent pediatrician.


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