To establish whether epidemiologic characteristics for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have changed since the decrease in death rate after the "Back to Sleep" campaign in 1991, and to compare these characteristics with sudden and unexpected deaths in infancy (SUDI) from explained causes.
Three-year, population-based, case-control study. Parental interviews were conducted soon after the death and for 4 controls matched for age and date of interview. All sudden unexpected deaths were included in the study and the cause of death was established by a multidisciplinary panel of the relevant health care professionals taking into account past medical and social history of the mother and infant, the circumstances of death, and a full pediatric postmortem examination. Contributory factors and the final classification of death were made using the Avon clinicopathologic system.
Five regions in England, with a total population of >17 million people, took part in the study. The number of live births within these regions during the particular time each region was involved in the study was 473 000.
Three hundred twenty-five SIDS infants (91.3% of those available), 72 explained SUDI infants (86.7% of those available), and 1588 matched control infants (100% of total for cases included).
Many of the epidemiologic features that characterize SIDS infants and families have remained the same, despite the recent decrease in SIDS incidence in the United Kingdom. These include the same characteristic age distribution, few deaths in the first few weeks of life or after 6 months, with a peak between 4 and 16 weeks, a higher incidence in males, lower birth weight, shorter gestation, and more neonatal problems at delivery. As in previous studies there was a strong correlation with young maternal age and higher parity and the risk increased for infants of single mothers and for multiple births. A small but significant proportion of index mothers had also experienced a previous stillbirth or infant death. The majority of the SIDS deaths (83%) occurred during the night sleep and there was no particular day of the week on which a significantly higher proportion of deaths occurred. Major epidemiologic features to change since the decrease in SIDS rate include a reduction in the previous high winter peaks of death and a shift of SIDS families to the more deprived social grouping. Just more than one quarter of the SIDS deaths (27%) occurred in the 3 winter months (December through February) in the 3 years of this study. In half of the SIDS families (49%), the lone parent or both parents were unemployed compared with less than a fifth of control families (18%). This difference was not explained by an excess of single mothers in the index group. Many of the significant factors relating to the SIDS infants and families that distinguish them from the normal population did not distinguish between SIDS and explained SUDI. In the univariate analysis many of the epidemiologic characteristics significant among the SIDS group were also identified and in the same direction among the infants dying as SUDI attributable to known causes. The explained deaths were similarly characterized by the same infant, maternal, and social factors, 48% of these families received no waged income. Using logistic regression to make a direct comparison between the two index groups there were only three significant differences between the two groups of deaths: 1) a different age distribution, the age distribution of the explained deaths peaked in the first 2 months and was more uniform thereafter; 2) more congenital anomalies were noted at birth (odds ratio [OR] = 3.14; 95% confidence intervals [CI]: 1.52-6. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)