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Local research finds possible cause of SIDS -

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Local research finds possible cause of SIDS

The World Today - Thursday, 11 September , 2008 12:59:47

Reporter: Nance Haxton

ELEANOR HALL: It kills an average of 65 babies a year in Australia and its cause is still unknown.

Now research from Adelaide's Women and Children's Hospital has found that a possible cause of
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has been overlooked.

The study found that a strain of golden staph bacteria could be a trigger for the syndrome.

Associate Professor Paul Goldwater told Nance Haxton that he analysed the post mortem reports of
more than 190 babies over a 25-year period to come to his conclusion.

PAUL GOLDWATER: We believe that these pathogens are actually causing infection and they may be the
cause of SIDS. We found them in about a quarter of the cases of sudden infant death. Staph always
is one of the leading ones and we found it in about 10 per cent.

NANCE HAXTON: Is that the same as the golden staph infection that people are familiar with?

PAUL GOLDWATER: Yes, that's right, yeah. What's of particular note is that staph aureus, this
golden staph, very commonly carries lethal toxins and as part of our research we found two-thirds
of SIDS infants actually carry these lethal toxins in their intestines, as it happens.

NANCE HAXTON: So would that be a trigger possibly for SIDS...

PAUL GOLDWATER: Yes.

NANCE HAXTON: Or are you arguing that it's actually, it could be actually a cause of SIDS?

PAUL GOLDWATER: We think it could be a cause.

NANCE HAXTON: And it has been overlooked until this time?

PAUL GOLDWATER: We believe so, yes.

NANCE HAXTON: So what happens from here? You've made the recommendation that really from now on
post mortems should look at whether there is this bacteria present more carefully?

PAUL GOLDWATER: That's what we would recommend, definitely.

And also in terms of the care of the baby, the sleeping surface is very important and babies should
not be put down to sleep on sofas or in the parents' bed because these are heavily contaminated
sites, heavily contaminated with pathogenic bacteria.

And of course the recommendation is to put the baby down on their backs. We think the association
with prone sleeping is that the baby is more likely to ingest or get colonised with these bacteria
if their face is in contact with the sleeping surface.

NANCE HAXTON: One criticism of the study was that the cases were drawn over a long time span. How
would you respond to that?

PAUL GOLDWATER: Well unfortunately, or fortunately depending how you look at it, the comparison
deaths are quite rare and so we have to look over a long period of time.

NANCE HAXTON: So how confident are you that this particular golden staph bacterial infection could
be a cause of SIDS?

PAUL GOLDWATER: Extremely confident. But we believe other bacteria could be involved as well.

And also, there's strong evidence that viruses probably play a role as a co-factor. My PhD student,
Amanda Highet, is doing genetic studies as well as the bacterial toxin studies and has had some
very interesting findings with some genes that we believe make SIDS babies more susceptible to
these bacterial toxins. And her preliminary data shows a very strong correlation with two
particular gene mutations.

NANCE HAXTON: So there could be a genetic factor as well as a bacterial factor?

PAUL GOLDWATER: Oh, almost certainly, almost certainly. And when you put all of these factors
together that's when the baby is at risk.

ELEANOR HALL: Associate Professor Paul Goldwater is from the Adelaide Women and Children's Hospital
and he was speaking to Nance Haxton.