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Education Effort Reduces Shaken Baby Syndrome Risk

Hospital-based intervention linked to nearly 50 percent decline

MONDAY, April 4, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Head injuries caused by "shaken baby syndrome" can be reduced by nearly 50 percent through an inexpensive, hospital-based parent-education program provided just after the birth of a child, researchers say.

"Although many parents we spoke with had heard of shaken baby syndrome, providing parents with this information at that special time, just after the birth of their children, appeared to provide a critical reminder that resulted in fewer cases of abuse," study leader Dr. Mark S. Dias said in a statement. He is a pediatric neurosurgeon and associate professor of neurosurgery at Penn State College of Medicine and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

"Our study shows that an effective prevention campaign could potentially save the lives of many children and significantly improve the lives of many others," said Dias, who is also director of the shaken baby syndrome education program.

The study began in 1998 and included 16 hospitals in western New York state. Nurses at the hospitals were trained to use pamphlets, discussion and a video to educate parents about shaken baby syndrome -- serious head or neck injuries occurring when infants are violently shaken.

"Abusive head injuries among infants are serious," Dias said, "with about one quarter of infants dying from their injuries and at least one half of the survivors suffering significant neurological impairments."

The program costs less than $10 per infant and requires less than 15 minutes per session. Nurses involved in the hospital-based effort were told to specifically seek out fathers or father-figures, since they're most often involved in shaken baby syndrome.

After learning about shaken baby syndrome, parents were asked to sign special "commitment statements" attesting to the fact that they had received and understood the educational materials.

The researchers tracked the regional incidence of abusive head injuries among children less than 36 months old from December 1998 to May 2004, comparing that to the rate before the start of the study program.

During the study period, more than 64,000 commitment statements were collected from parents of over 94,000 babies. During that time, there were 21 cases of abusive head injuries recorded (22.2 cases per 100,000 babies), compared to 49 cases (41.5 cases per 100,000 babies) in the six years prior to the start of the study.

"This translates to a 47 percent reduction in the frequency of abusive head injuries from shaken baby syndrome during the study program and shows that the education program is effective in reducing shaken baby syndrome," Dias said.

The study was published April 4, 2005, in the journal Pediatrics.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about preventing shaken baby syndrome.

SOURCE: Penn State University, news release, April 4, 2005
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