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Bacteria That Causes Stomach Ulcers: A Culprit in SIDS?


WebMD Health News

Oct. 27, 2000 -- Fear of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) haunts many parents and other caregivers. Any action that can lower the risk of SIDS receives media attention, such as the "back-to-sleep" movement, after a finding that infants who sleep on their backs are less likely to die of SIDS. New parents often listen for breathing and buy nursery monitors for reassurance.

Now, new research shows that Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that is known to cause stomach ulcers and may also play a role in heart disease, may play a role in SIDS. In a British study published recently in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, investigators examinedtissue samples from 32 infants who had died of SIDS and compared these tissue samples with those from eight infants who had died of other causes. H. pylori genes were present in 28 SIDS cases and just one of the group that died from other causes.

These findings should not cause parents to become alarmed, says study author Jonathan Kerr, MD, or to worry that a parent with an ulcer could give a baby an illness that would result in SIDS. However, he says, the findings do point up the value of appropriate hygiene in the care of infants, such as proper hand washing, particularly before handling bottles and pacifiers. He is a consultant in medical microbiology at the University of Manchester in England.

As many parents and caregivers know, caring for an infant can be exhausting. Pacifiers are always falling out of babies' mouths, particularly in inopportune places, such as playgrounds or shopping malls, where hot water and soap aren't available. While the baby is crying inconsolably -- you guessed it -- the parent gives the pacifier a quick lick in his or her own mouth and puts it right back in the baby's mouth. Any organisms in the parent's mouth, H. pylori in this case, are transmitted through the parent's saliva to the baby.

However, parents should not be unduly alarmed that they are putting their babies at risk of SIDS, says Phipps Cohe, a spokesperson for the SIDS Alliance, a national advocacy group. "While it is not a good idea for parents or caregivers to transfer feeding bottles from their own mouths to their infants for sanitary purposes, alarming the public is unwarranted at this time," Cohe tells WebMD. "This is premature, as the investigators have acknowledged ... the investigators have a long way to go to make this something we can buy as a theory, but we don't want to discourage them from trying."

An H. pylori connection is still preliminary, Kerr agrees. He stresses that although these findings underscore the value of good hygiene in infant care, parents should not be alarmed by the findings, because of the study's preliminary nature. "Although we have found a significant prevalence of H. pylori in SIDS cases versus controls, the numbers are small and [the data] need to be repeated and confirmed independently," he tells WebMD.

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