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Can a Used Mattress Cause SIDS?

A study makes that claim, but some doctors are skeptical

FRIDAY, Nov. 1, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A baby who sleeps on a mattress that was used by another child may be at increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a Scottish study finds.

"Insufficient evidence is available to judge whether this relationship is cause and effect," say the authors of the study, which appears in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal.

And an American pediatrician says the findings should be viewed with skepticism.

However, the researcher who led the study says there's a strong suspicion that previously used infant mattresses can be breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria. And those germs could contribute to an infection that might be tied to SIDS.

"Saliva basically sits in the foam block and builds up," says Dr. David Tappin, a senior lecturer in pediatrics at the Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow. "We feel that bacteria can remain in the mattress for a long time. And a mattress can provide a good culture medium for other bacteria."

The study compared 131 babies who died of SIDS in Scotland between 1996 and 2000, and 278 healthy infants. It was based on a questionnaire that controlled for the effects of socioeconomic status and other factors that could affect the risk of sudden infant death.

Overall, there was a threefold increase in SIDS deaths associated with a used infant mattress. A more detailed analysis of the questionnaires found that the risk was greatest if the mattress came from another home, the study says.

This is the second study to show an association between a used mattress and SIDS, Tappin says. He was involved in the previous study, which was published in 1997.

"If you find something like this, you want to repeat it to show the finding was not due to chance," he says. "We've done that and found the same potential risk factor."

Research to determine whether virulent bacteria can thrive in used mattresses is being done at the University of Leicester in England, but the results are not yet available, Tappin says.

Dr. Michael H. Malloy is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. He says he's cautious about the study's conclusion because data in the study indicate that factors other than a used mattress could be to blame for the SIDS deaths.

"The authors say they controlled for socioeconomic status. But if you look at the distribution [of the deaths], there is no question that the cases [deaths] were in a more deprived group than the controls [the healthy infants]," Malloy says.

While the Scottish researchers made a diligent effort to account for all factors that might affect SIDS risk, Malloy says, "it is possible that they were not able to completely do away with the bias. If the cases [deaths] were in a more deprived group, the likelihood of a higher risk is not terribly surprising."

Malloy says parents should concentrate on practices that have clearly been shown to help prevent SIDS, such as not allowing infants to sleep face down, but rather on their back.

"My advice would be to provide the infant with a firm mattress, put it [the infant] in a supine position to sleep, use no quilts or bulky pillows, refrain from smoking and breast-feed," Malloy says.

What To Do

For more information about the risk factors for SIDS and how to avoid them, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics. To learn more about SIDS, check with the American SIDS Institute.

SOURCES: David Tappin, M.D, senior lecturer, pediatrics, Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, Scotland; Michael H. Malloy, M.D., professor, pediatrics, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston; Nov. 2, 2002, British Medical Journal
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