By Karen Garlochkgarloch@charlotteobserver.com
RALEIGH Thirty-nine percent more N.C. infants died of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, in 2008 than in the previous year, raising concerns among state officials tracking child deaths.
The increase in SIDS deaths, from 98 in 2007 to 136 in 2008, occurred in the same year that total child deaths decreased by 5 percent, from 1,649 in 2007 to 1,573 in 2008.
Officials don’t yet have an explanation for why SIDS deaths went up.
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Krista Ragan, a researcher in the state medical examiner’s office who reported the statistics Monday to the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force, said the jump could be a “blip.”
“We need to look at another year’s data at least,” she said. “We really don’t want to make a whole lot of conclusions based on one year’s worth of data.”
The cause of SIDS is unknown, but the risk can be reduced, health officials say, if a baby is put to sleep its back in a crib, on a firm mattress, and without fluffy pillows, blankets or stuffed animals. Experts say the risk of SIDS is greater if infants co-sleep with adults in a bed or on a sofa.
Of 136 N.C. infants who died of SIDS in 2008, 58 (or 43 percent) were sleeping with an adult when they were found not breathing, Ragan said.
The connection between unsafe sleep and SIDS has become more well-known since 1994 when a national “Back to Sleep” campaign encouraged parents to put infants on their backs to sleep, instead of on their stomachs. SIDS deaths dropped in subsequent years.
But by that time, experts were seeing a rise in infants who died from asphyxiation in bed. Nationally, since 1994, the rate of accidental suffocation and strangulation of infants in bed has quadrupled. North Carolina saw deaths from SIDS fall dramatically in 2003 after state legislators required day-care workers to put infants to sleep on their backs. But the number of infant deaths due to asphyxiation doubled from 16 in 2003 to 31 in 2004, and has stayed fairly steady since then.
In North Carolina, 27 infants died of asphyxiation while sleeping in 2008, compared to 32 in 2007. All of the 2008 deaths involved unsafe sleep environments, Ragan said: 70 percent of the infants were co-sleeping with an adult or another child, and in 48 percent of the deaths, someone rolled over on the child, causing suffocation.
Accidents cause the largest number of child deaths in North Carolina, Ragan told the task force, which has pushed for laws to protect children since its creation in 1991.
Of the child deaths in 2008, 126 were from motor vehicle accidents, including 24 drivers, 61 passengers, 28 pedestrians, six on all-terrain vehicles and three on bicycles.
Other deaths and their causes: 30 from drowning, 17 in fires, two from accidental gunshots, 14 from toxic chemicals or drugs, 35 homicides by parent or caregiver, 30 homicides by a non-relative or caregiver, and 21 from suicide.