Has The Cause of Crib Death (SIDS) Been Found?

By Jane Sheppard

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. These four words can incite a considerable amount of terror in a parent of an infant. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as crib or cot death, is the number one cause of death for infants from one month to one year of age. 90% of all SIDS deaths are in babies under six months old. Ongoing SIDS research occasionally leads to discoveries of risk factors associated with these deaths, but after almost 50 years, researchers say they still do not know how or why it happens. The prevailing official viewpoint on SIDS is that the cause is unknown (SIDS Alliance 2001).

It may seem inconceivable that over a million babies have died of this "syndrome", and after almost half a century and many millions of dollars spent, no one in this age of science and technology can tell us why. But what parents are virtually oblivious to (through no fault of their own) is that a highly convincing explanation for this tragedy has been found, along with a simple means of eliminating it. This explanation is backed by a significant amount of evidence, but has been and continues to be completely ignored by SIDS organizations, the medical community, and the government - for a variety of reasons, including politics, financial liability, and vested interests. Publication of these findings continues to be denied and suppressed. The result is that babies continue to be at risk from deaths that may easily be prevented.

Toxic Gases in Mattresses

Dr. Jim Sprott, OBE, a New Zealand scientist and chemist, states with certainty that crib death is caused by toxic gases, which can be generated from a baby's mattress. Chemical compounds containing phosphorus, arsenic and antimony have been added to mattresses as fire retardants and for other purposes since the early 1950's. A fungus that commonly grows in bedding can interact with these chemicals to create poisonous gases (Richardson 1994). These heavier-than-air gases are concentrated in a thin layer on the baby's mattress or are diffused away and dissipated into the surrounding atmosphere. If a baby breathes or absorbs a lethal dose of the gases, the central nervous system shuts down, stopping breathing and then heart function. These gases can fatally poison a baby, without waking the sleeping baby and without any struggle by the baby. A normal autopsy would not reveal any sign that the baby was poisoned (Sprott 1996).

In spite of denial and opposition from orthodox SIDS organizations, no research has disproved this gaseous poisoning explanation for crib death. No valid criticism of this explanation has ever been provided. This logical finding explains every factor already known about crib death, and is backed by scientific research (Sprott 1996, 2000) and almost seven years of practical proof consisting of a crib death prevention campaign that continues in New Zealand (Sprott 2000).

The fundamental solution is urgent action to eliminate all sources of phosphorus, arsenic and antimony from all mattresses. But this is not happening now, and is not likely to happen anytime soon, so exposure to these gases must be prevented. The intervening solution is to prevent babies from being exposed to the gases by wrapping mattresses in a gas-impermeable cover made from high-grade polyethylene and ensuring that bedding used on top of a wrapped mattress does not contain any phosphorus, arsenic or antimony. Dr. Sprott specifies a fleecy, pure cotton (flannelette) underblanket, with only cotton or poly-cotton sheets and woolen or cotton blankets over the baby. No other bedding should be used in the baby's crib. In particular, do not use any synthetic sheets or blankets, nor a duvet, sleeping bag, or sheepskin (Sprott 1996).

A 100% successful crib death prevention campaign has been going on in New Zealand for the past seven years. During this time, there has not been a single SIDS death reported among the over 100,000 New Zealand babies who have slept on mattresses wrapped in a specially formulated polyethylene cover. The number of crib deaths in New Zealand that have occurred since mattress-wrapping began in 1994 is about 520. The number of crib deaths that have occurred in New Zealand on a properly wrapped mattress is zero.

Prior to the commencement of mattress-wrapping, New Zealand had the highest crib death rate in the world (2.1 deaths per 1000 live births). Following the adoption of mattress-wrapping by many parents in New Zealand, the New Zealand crib death rate has fallen by 48% (NZHIS), and the Pakeha (non-Maori) crib death rate has fallen by an estimated 70% (King 2001). Pakeha parents have adopted mattress-wrapping with enthusiasm. "These reductions cannot be attributed to orthodox cot death prevention advice," said Dr Sprott. "There has been no material change in that advice since 1992. The only significant change in cot death prevention advice, which has occurred since 1994, is the nationwide dissemination of my recommendations to wrap babies' mattresses and to stop using sheepskins as baby bedding."

Midwives and other healthcare professionals throughout New Zealand have been actively advising parents to wrap mattresses. The New Zealand Ministry of Health has stated that there have been no reported crib deaths or any other deaths among those babies who have slept on correctly wrapped mattresses (Sprott 2000). Dr. Sprott maintains, "No suffocation has ever been reported on the type and thickness of polyethylene which I specify".

Parents Are Denied Findings

So why isn't this profound and critically important information making the headlines of major newspapers or all over the evening news? Why aren't crib death researchers and the government of the United States telling parents to wrap babies' mattresses? Why are the manufacturers still adding fire retardants and other chemicals to mattresses?

There are various reasons, but one possible reason is that mattress manufacturers are required to use fire retardants through government regulations. Admitting that these chemicals are causing deaths would mean admitting to major liability. Furthermore, crib death research has been a significant source of funding for medical researchers in the U.S. Crib death research funding has nearly stopped in New Zealand as more people become aware that mattress-wrapping is easy, cheap and 100% successful in preventing this tragedy. Unfortunately, the ongoing complex and expensive research that leads to the discovery of "risk factors" for a so-called "syndrome" has pushed aside the simple and inexpensive solution of mattress-wrapping; a solution that can do no harm.

The Cot Death Cover-Up? (Penguin books, NZ, 1996), by Dr. Jim Sprott, reveals the amazing story of denial on the part of crib death researchers and the medical community, and the failure of these entities to accept such a simple explanation. Dr. Sprott first suggested a toxic gas theory for crib death in 1986, and in 1989 Barry Richardson of Britain, also a consulting chemist acting independently, publicized outstanding research proving the finding. In response, the British government set up expert committees to investigate the findings. One committee published the Turner Report, which recommended the removal of the chemicals from baby mattresses and for babies to be tested for antimony. A second committee published the 1998 Limerick Report, which is frequently cited by SIDS organizations as finding no evidence to substantiate the claim that toxic gases cause crib death. Contrary to this publicity, the Limerick Report did not disprove the theory (Fitzpatrick 1998) - in fact, it provides further confirmation of it (Sprott 2000).

Researchers and organizations responsible for advising parents have relied on erroneous information from the Limerick Report, and have vigorously denied the toxic gas explanation for crib death. In the intervening period, many thousands of babies have died of crib death. But the New Zealand experience shows that those deaths were avoidable, easily and cheaply - and that raises another prospect of legal liability for babies' deaths.

The main orthodox crib death prevention recommendation is to put babies to sleep on their backs. We know that babies do still die when sleeping on their backs, although face-up sleeping does reduce the risk. The gases are denser than air and tend to settle in a thin layer directly on top of the mattress, so babies sleeping face-down are more likely to inhale a lethal dose of the gases. The gases are also absorbed through babies' skin, and this is one of the major reasons why face-up sleeping provides only partial protection against crib death (Sprott 1996).

However, no babies have died sleeping on a properly wrapped mattress. This is crucial information for parents, regardless of whether or not the toxic gas explanation is considered 100% scientifically proven. Sprott, Richardson, and other scientists are adamant that it is proven. Eight babies continue to die every night in the United States from SIDS. Parents should be provided with the information so that they are able to decide for themselves whether they want to wait for the SIDS research organizations or the government to endorse mattress-wrapping or to "play it safe" as many parents have done in New Zealand. As Dr. Sprott points out and no one has denied, "All New Zealand crib deaths since mattress-wrapping began in late 1994 have occurred when parents (for whatever reason) have not wrapped their babies' mattresses. An inexpensive, gas-impermeable, non-toxic protective cover can surely do no harm."

Factors That May Increase the Risk of Death From Toxic Gases

A baby's immature organs and other developing biological systems are particularly vulnerable to toxic contaminants (Mott 1997). All babies are susceptible to the toxic gases, but whether death, illness or just irritability occurs to a baby depends on certain other factors. As mentioned, facedown sleeping increases the risk of crib death. Other factors include:

Re-Used Mattresses
The risk of death increases when mattresses are re-used from one baby to the next. The fungus has already had a chance to establish itself in the used mattress. When the next baby uses the same mattress, the fungus is soon active. Toxic gas production begins sooner and is generated in greater volume. It is known that crib death rates increase markedly from the first baby in a family to the second, and from the second to the third, and so on (Mitchell 2001).

High Room Temperature and Overwrapping
Overheating is believed to play a role in SIDS (Wells 1997). High room temperature and overwrapping of the baby can cause an increased risk of death, since toxic gas generation is greatly increased when the temperature of the bedding is raised. A five or six degree Fahrenheit climb in temperature of the mattress and bedding can make the fungi more active and thus increase gas generation about 10-20 times (Richardson 1991). High room temperature, an overload of blankets, or overdressing babies can cause them to receive higher doses of the gases.

Infections and Decreased Immunity
A baby with strong immune responses will have fewer infections, and will be less likely to have fevers. During fevers, the heat generated by the baby's body increases the temperature of the bedding, which increases toxic gas generation. Heat stress (from infections and excessive room heat and insulation) is known to be a significant risk factor for SIDS (Guntheroth 2001). An infection can also lower a baby's tolerance to any given concentration of gases. More than 90 percent of SIDS babies have had upper respiratory infections shortly before death (Smith and Hattersley 2000).

Inadequate Vitamin C
Over 30 years ago, Archie Kalokerinos, M.D., a doctor practicing in the outback of Australia, was able to eliminate the unusually high incidence of SIDS by giving babies injections of ascorbate (vitamin C). He believed SIDS to be acute infantile scurvy. Dr. Kalokerinos found that vitamin C deficiency was an important factor in the many diseases of the infants, especially sudden infant death. His work was independently duplicated in the U.S. by Fred Klenner, M.D. in Reidsville, North Carolina (Kalokerinos 1981).

Submissions of this evidence and documented case studies were made to the medical authorities and SIDS experts, both in Australia and the U.S. This evidence was completely ignored and no clinical trials were recommended. Dr. Kalokerinos tells his story in Every Second Child, a book that demonstrates the reluctance of many doctors to accept new ideas (Kalokerinos 1981).

The systems of the body cannot function without adequate vitamin C. It's been shown that many infants have marginal amounts in their bodies (Kalokerinos 1981). Any stress, including injury or illness, can increase the body's need for vitamin C (Cathcart 1981). Under conditions such as vaccinations (Kalokerinos 1981, Pauling 1981), upper respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, malnutrition, and other viral and bacterial infections, the existing vitamin C can be completely used up, leaving the immune system unable to cope with any toxic threat to the body. This can leave a baby more vulnerable to the toxic gases in mattresses, especially if they have recently been vaccinated (Smith and Hattersley 2000).

Dr. Sprott explains another reason why administering vitamin C to a baby can prevent death. "The high alkaline pH of babies' urine, dribble, perspiration, and vomit enables the fungus to grow and to generate the toxic gases rapidly. But consumption of vitamin C makes these bodily fluids acidic, reversing the alkalinity in the baby's crib environment and preventing gas generation." (Sprott 1996)

Vaccines are known to cause fevers in babies (CDC 2001). These fevers can increase generation of the gases, exposing babies to higher concentrations. Vaccines have also been shown to cause stressed breathing (Scheibner 1993), weakened immunity, and neurological damage (Neustaedter 1996), which can lower the baby's ability to tolerate a given concentration of toxic gases.

Injected straight into the bloodstream of the delicate, developing body of the baby are thimerosal (a mercury derivative), formaldehyde, and other toxic substances. These materials can destroy the critical stores of protective nutrients in a small baby's body. In addition to creating fevers that can increase toxic gas generation in a baby's bedding, vaccines can lead to the depletion of vitamin C in a baby's body (Hattersley 1993 and Pauling 1981), damaging the tiny body's developing nervous and immune systems. This could leave a baby more susceptible to the gases.

Vaccines Alone Can Cause Death

Many researchers, doctors, scientists, and parents believe that vaccines alone can cause SIDS. Indeed, vaccines do cause death, and vaccine deaths are often labeled as SIDS cases. As Dawn Winkler, former Vice President of Concerned Parents for Vaccine Safety, points out, "The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has even compensated 93 families whose infants' deaths were labeled SIDS because the parent had the evidence in the autopsy to prove the vaccine caused it. Yet, the cause of death listing as "SIDS" was never changed on the death certificates of these 93 babies." (Winkler 2000)

Many SIDS parents have told the same story. Their previously healthy babies were not the same from the time they were vaccinated until they died. A high-pitched scream, excessive sleeping, poor appetite, and troubled breathing were common. At the time of death, no one investigates whether these babies could have died directly from the vaccines alone or if vaccine damage may have lowered the babies' capacity to withstand the toxic gases in their mattresses. No one investigates this because our government and the medical community deny that vaccines or toxic gases could be causes of death. Instead they label these deaths as SIDS and maintain that they do not know the cause. They refuse to accept the research that has already been done in both of these areas and remain steadfast in their commitment to deny any further research. Health officials continually refer to vaccine manufacturer-sponsored studies reporting no relationship between vaccines and SIDS. Some of these studies have been strongly criticized (Coulter 1996) and called into question because of potential biases that underestimate the risk of SIDS from vaccines (Fine 1992).

The assumption that SIDS is vaccine-related could very well be accurate. It seems likely that vaccines could be an indirect factor in SIDS cases, and may be the deciding factor that could cause a baby to succumb to the toxic gases. Perhaps some or even many SIDS babies may have survived the toxic insult of the gases were it not for vaccinations. We do not know this for sure. But we do know that not one baby has died sleeping on a properly wrapped mattress. Many of these babies were vaccinated, but none of them were exposed to the gases. Vaccination rates among the Pakeha (non-Maori) people in New Zealand, who have enthusiastically adopted mattress-wrapping, are very high. These people now have the lowest crib death rate in the world. The crib death rate is about seven times higher among Maori babies in New Zealand, who are vaccinated far less than the Pakeha. In Victory Over Crib Death, Lendon H. Smith, MD and Joseph G. Hattersley, MA astutely point out, "If vaccinations directly caused crib death, the proportions would be reversed." The article Victory Over Crib Death is a summary of Smith's and Hattersley's book, The Infant Survival Guide: Protecting Your Baby From the Dangers of Crib Death, Vaccines and Other Environmental Hazards. This book is considered by some to be a definitive guide to ending the terrible tragedy of crib death and proposes a new paradigm; that toxic gases are the single cause of nearly all crib deaths. In addition to advocating mattress-wrapping, the authors strongly recommend against vaccinations.

The assumption that our government agencies do everything they can to protect our children is naive. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has stated that BabeSafe mattress covers do not constitute any safety risk to babies. These covers (manufactured in New Zealand) are the only mattress covers designed to protect babies from toxic gases generated in mattresses. Yet even though the products comprise simple and inexpensive plastic mattress covers, the FDA would still require the manufacturer to go through the complex and time-consuming procedure of obtaining pre-market approval in order for BabeSafe covers to be imported into the U.S.

Instead of putting unnecessary hurdles in the way of a harmless and potentially live-saving product, why don't the authorities endorse mattress-wrapping in the U.S. to see if the results achieved in New Zealand could be duplicated here? The score in New Zealand is now 520 deaths (orthodox crib death prevention advice) to none (mattress-wrapping). With so many more babies born in the U.S. than in New Zealand, the potential to save lives is dramatically greater - thousands every year. Why should even one baby be denied something that could potentially save his or her life? Fortunately, parents can still order the mattress covers to have them sent directly from New Zealand to their home. Alternatively, parents can wrap their babies' mattresses themselves, but use of the correct grade of polyethylene and adherence to explicit instructions are vital.

The FDA defines SIDS as a "disease" without providing any explanation of the alleged disease. However, as Dr. Sprott laments, "Crib death is not a disease, and until the FDA, the orthodox SIDS organizations, and the leading U.S. pediatricians admit the truth of these findings and the accuracy of our science, the U.S. crib death rate will continue as it is now; about eight dead babies every night. By contrast, New Zealand now leads the world in crib death prevention, and will be the first country in the world to eradicate SIDS."

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