, Volume 119, Issue 4, pp 213-216
Date: 14 Apr 2005

Unnatural causes of sudden unexpected deaths initially thought to be sudden infant death syndrome

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The aim of this clinicopathological study was to determine the frequency of infant deaths due to unnatural causes among cases of sudden and unexpected infant death. Nine institutes of legal medicine in Germany that took part in the German study on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (GeSID), representing 35% of the German territory, investigated in a 3-year period (from 1998 to 2001) 339 cases of infant death that were not expected to be due to unnatural causes from the first external examination. All cases were investigated by complete, standardised, post-mortem examination including death scene investigation, autopsy, histology, toxicology and neuropathology. The frequency of unnatural deaths was 5.0% (n=17). The causes of death were head injury (n=7), suffocation (n=5), poisoning (n=2), neglect (n=2) and septicaemia due to aspiration of a foreign body (n=1). Two deaths were unsuspected accidents and 12 were due to infanticide. In 3 cases, it was not possible to differentiate between accidental death and infanticide. A complete postmortem examination including an analysis of the clinical history, death scene investigation, autopsy, histology, toxicology, and neuropathology is mandatory to differentiate sudden and unexpected deaths due to natural causes (e.g. SIDS) and cases of unnatural death.