Australian researchers believe that some cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may be caused by the bacterial infection Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus).
They say S. aureus can produce lethal toxins which an infants body would be unable to deal with, which could lead to sudden death - this has apparently not previously been considered as a possible cause of SIDS.
The researchers from the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, have found that in some SIDS cases the bacteria S. aureus was implicated - the bacteria is sometimes found in sites which are normally sterile such as the heart blood, spleen or cerebrospinal fluid.
The Adelaide researchers conducted a study which reviewed the autopsy records of 130 infants who died from SIDS - 32 of whom from sudden unexpected death from infection (SUDI) and 33 from a non-infectious cause such as an accident.
They found that that infants who died from a non-infectious cause rarely had bacteria growing at normally sterile body sites, whereas the SIDS and SUDI infants often had microbes, including potential pathogens, present in these sterile sites.
Researcher Dr. P. N. Goldwater, says 10.76 percent of SIDS infants and 18.75 percent of SUDI infants were found to harbour the microbe S. aureus in a normally sterile site but the bacteria were not found in cases of accidental death.
Dr. Goldwater says there was no significant difference found in the detection of sterile site coliform bacteria in SIDS infants compared with the other groups.
Coliform bacteria are found in the lower intestinal track and in feces, and are used as an indication of levels of sewage contamination and the researchers say the sterile site microbes yielded no growth in 45.4 percent of accidental death cases, 43 percent of SIDS cases, and 28.1 percent of SUDI cases.
They suggest that microbes isolated in SIDS babies may play a role in death.
There are things a parent can do to reduce the risk of their child dying of SIDS, such as not smoking during or after pregnancy, breastfeeding, making sure babies sleep on their back and are not too hot or too cold, and not letting the baby share a bed with someone else, especially if that person is a smoker, or is affected by drugs or alcohol.
However the reality is that perfectly healthy babies, where all precautions have been taken to ensure their safety, still suffer from SIDS and die in their sleep.
According to the National Centers for Health Statistics the death rate from SIDS, which is classified as a natural cause of death, is 0.5%, but some experts believe the real figure to be much higher.
The research is published in the current issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood.