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New study throws light on a possible cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): What is it?


A new research, conducted by scientists in Australia have found that babies who are at risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, have low levels of an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) in their blood. Published in the journal eBioMedicine, the study could pave the way for newborn screening and timely intervention if results are corroborated by more research.

Dr Carmel Harrington, who led the research at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, in Sydney, Australia, was quoted as saying, “It’s the first time we’ve ever had a potential biomarker for SIDS.”

According to a report in The New York Times, SIDS remains a leading cause of sudden and unexpected death in infants under the age of 1 in Western countries.

The report states that for the research, Dr Harrington and her team compared dried blood samples from 655 healthy babies, 26 babies who died from SIDS and 41 babies who died from another cause. It was found that about nine out of 10 babies who died of SIDS had significantly lower BChE levels than those in the other groups.

What is SIDS, and what should parents know about it?

Dr TJ Antony, director and HOD, neonatology at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram told indianexpress.com that SIDS is defined as the sudden unexplained death in a previously-healthy infant, and the cause of death remains unknown despite a thorough investigation.

“It is, therefore, a diagnosis of exclusion. In the US, between 2,000-3,000 babies die of SIDS every year. There is, however, no reliable data from India on the number of cases,” he said.

Babies should sleep on a firm mattress, and all soft objects and loose bedding should be kept away. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

Is there a way to prevent it?

According to the doctor, prevention includes:

1. The most important recommendation to prevent SIDS is to make the babies sleep only on their backs.
2. They should sleep on a firm mattress, and all soft objects and loose bedding should be kept away from the sleeping area.
3. Avoid overheating , and over-covering.
4. Preferably have babies sleep in the same room as the parents, but on a different surface, especially if parents are smokers or have consumed alcohol, or are on sedative drugs.
5. Avoid smoke exposure during pregnancy and after birth.

“Parents should be aware of it, and also know how to prevent it. Babies born prematurely and those who have low birth weight may be at a higher risk than their term counterparts,” he explained.

“The study regarding the lower levels of butyrylcholinesterase in these babies is an exciting development, but it is still early days. The finding needs to be confirmed by other studies, and there is still a long way to go before we can really say this is the cause of SIDS,” Dr Antony concluded.

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