Unintentional asphyxia, SIDS, and medically explained deaths: a descriptive study of outcomes of child death review (CDR) investigations following sudden unexpected death in infancy.

Joanna Garstang, Catherine Ellis, Frances Griffiths, Peter Sidebotham

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15 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

Background
A comprehensive child death review (CDR) program was introduced in England and Wales in 2008, but as yet data have only been analyzed at a local level, limiting the learning from deaths. The aim of this study is to describe the profile of causes and risk factors for sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) as determined by the new CDR program.

Methods
This was a descriptive outcome study using data from child death overview panel Form C for SUDI cases dying during 2010–2012 in the West Midlands region of England. The main outcome measures were: cause of death, risk factors and potential preventability of death, and determination of deaths probably due to unintentional asphyxia.

Results
Data were obtained for 65/70 (93 %) SUDI cases. 20/65 (31 %) deaths were initially categorized as due to medical causes; 21/65 (32 %) as SIDS; and 24/65 (37 %) as undetermined. Reanalysis suggested that 2/21 SIDS and 7/24 undetermined deaths were probably due to unintentional asphyxia, with 6 of these involving co-sleeping and excessive parental alcohol consumption. Deaths classified as “undetermined” had significantly higher total family and environmental risk factor scores (mean 2.6, 95 % CI 2.0–3.3) compared to those classified as SIDS (mean 1.6, 95 % CI 1.2–1.9), or medical causes for death (mean 1.1, 95 % CI 0.8–1.3). 9/20 (47 %) of medical deaths, 19/21 (90 %) SIDS, and 23/24 (96 %) undetermined deaths were considered to be potentially preventable. There were inadequacies in medical provision identified in 5/20 (25 %) of medically explained deaths.

Conclusions
The CDR program results in detailed information about risk factors for SUDI cases but failed to recognize deaths probably due to unintentional asphyxia. The misclassification of probable unintentional asphyxial deaths and SIDS as “undetermined deaths” is likely to limit learning from these deaths and inhibit prevention strategies. Many SUDI occurred in families with mental illness, substance misuse and chaotic lifestyles and most in unsafe sleep environments. This knowledge could be used to better target safe sleep advice for vulnerable families and prevent SUDI in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-415
JournalForensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology
Volume12
Issue number4
Early online date9 Aug 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes

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