The High Toll of Sudden Infant Death

Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) is not frequently an issue that is addressed by pediatric gastroenterology.  However, it is very common and needs to  be considered as we see infants with reflux, irritability, diarrhea, and dyschezia.

A recent report (DR Roehler et al. J Pediatr 2019; 212: 224-7) puts the magnitude of this problem into perspective.

Key points:

  • From 2013-2015, there was an average of 3523 US infants each year who died from SUID, peaking at 1-2 months of life.
  • The average annual risk of SUID during the first year of life was more than 5 times the peak risk of mortality from firearms homicide, motor vehichle-traffic, drugs/opioid overdose, and suicide.
  • More black infants died of SUID in the first year than black children who died from firearm homicides in all of childhood through age 19 years.
  • SUID deaths from 2013-2015 (10,568) was similar to the total number of motor vehicle-traffic deaths in all of childhood (10,714) and greater than the total number of any of the other causes.
  • Rates of SUID deaths were much higher for non-hispanic blacks than non-hispanic whites or hispanics.  Peak rates reached 481 per 100,000 per month compared with 215 per 100,000 per month and 130 per 100,000 per month respectively in these three groups (Figure 1).

Related study: AB Erck Lambert et al. Pediatrics 2019; 13.pii.e20183408.  In a SUID database analysis, 14% (250) of SUID cases from 2011-2014 were due to suffocation, most commonly due to soft bedding (69%), overlay (19%), and wedging (12%).

My take: The first year of life, particularly the first 3 months, is a very dangerous time for infants.  More attention to SUID could prevent a great amount of tragedy.

Related blog posts:

Useful website: This website has a book called “Sleep Baby Safe and Snug” which incorporates updated recommendations on safe sleep practices.

Children should sleep in the same room but on a separate surface from their parents for at least the first six months of their lives, and ideally the first year. They say that this can halve the risk of SIDS…You can read the AAP’s full guidance here. These are a few more of the pediatricians’ recommendations:

  • Infants under a year old should always sleep lying on their backs. Side sleeping “is not safe and is not advised,” the AAP says.
  • Infants should always sleep on a firm surface covered by only a flat sheet. That’s because soft mattresses “could create a pocket … and increase the chance of rebreathing or suffocation if the infant is placed in or rolls over to the prone position.”
  • Any other bedding or soft objects, like pillows or stuffed animals, could obstruct a child’s airway and increase the risk of SIDS and suffocation, according to the AAP.
  • The pediatricians say breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS.
  • The same goes for pacifiers at nap time and bedtime, although the doctors say the “mechanism is yet unclear.” They add that “the protective effect is observed even if the pacifier falls out of the infant’s mouth.”
  • Smoking – both during pregnancy and around the infant after birth – can increase the risk of SIDS. Alcohol and illicit drugs during pregnancy can also contribute to SIDS, and “parental alcohol and/or illicit drug use in combination with bed-sharing places the infant at particularly high risk of SIDS,” the pediatricians say.

Pittock Mansion, Portland, OR


Blaming Reflux for BRUEs -Not Changing Despite Guideline Recommendations

Briefly noted: DR Duncan et al. J Pediatr 2019; 211: 112-9.

In this retrospective cohort study of infants with brief resolved unexplained events (BRUEs) at Boston Children’s Hospital, the authors examined guideline implementation among 359 subjects in the year before and the year after AAP guidelines.

Key findings:

  • There were no significant changes in practice after guideline publication
  • Only 13% had videofluoroscopic swallow study performed; 72% of these showed aspiration/penetration
  • No subject had reflux testing, “yet reflux was implicated as the cause” for BRUE in 40%. Children continued to be “discharged on acid suppression despite lack of efficacy”

My take: The pendulum is (slowly) starting to swing back from blaming everything (including BRUEs) on reflux but this change is not evident in this study.

Related blog posts:

Vaccine Injury Claims Are Rare

NY Times: Vaccine Injury Claims Are Few and Far Between

An excerpt:

The data comes from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault system begun in 1988 after federal law established it as the place where claims of harm from vaccines must be filed and evaluated. It currently covers claims related to 15 childhood vaccines and the seasonal flu shot.

Over the past three decades, when billions of doses of vaccines have been given to hundreds of millions of Americans, the program has compensated about 6,600 people for harm they claimed was caused by vaccines. About 70 percent of the awards have been settlements in cases in which program officials did not find sufficient evidence that vaccines were at fault…

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that vaccines prevented more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children over a 20-year period….

There were about two claims of injury for every one million doses of all vaccines distributed in the United States from 2006 through 2017, the period for which the injury compensation program has dosage data. It says more than 3.4 billion vaccine doses were distributed during that time.

The rarity of claims is especially notable because the program aims to make it easy to file a petition…

A growing proportion of recent claims, about half of all petitions since 2017, do not involve the content of vaccines themselves. Instead, they refer to shoulder injuries, usually in adults, that occurred because a health provider injected a vaccine too high on the shoulder, or into the joint space instead of into muscle tissue. That may cause an inflammatory response leading to shoulder pain and limited motion.

My take (from Paul Offit, MD): “The most dangerous aspect of giving your child vaccines is driving to the office to get them.”

Related blog posts:

Early Psychosocial Environment and Cardiometabolic Risk

“It is easier to build strong children that to repair broken men”

-Frederick Douglass

This quote comes from a previous lecture on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and comes to mind after reading a recent study: JR Doom et al. J Pediatr 2019; 209; 85-91.

This study examined 588 adolescents (16-18 yrs) from a longitudinal cohort that began in infancy (in Chile).

Methods: Psychosocial environmental factors including depressive symptoms, stressful life events, poor support for child development, father absence, and socioeconomic status was reported by mothers at 6-12 months of age.  These factors were analyzed to determine association with adolescent cardiometabolic parameters including BMI, higher blood pressure, anthropometric risk factors for cardiovascular disease, biomarkers for cardiovascular disease (e.g. triglycerides, HOMA, cholesterol) and metabolic syndrome

Key findings:

  • Infants with poor psychosocial environments had higher BMIs at 10 years and in adolescence, higher blood pressures, greater anthropometric risk, worsened cardiovascular biomarkers, and higher likelihood of metabolic syndrome (aOR 1.5)
  • The Figure in the article shows sequential worsening by quartiles -those with the highest risk based on psychosocial stress composite were worse on these outcomes compared to the 2nd highest risk factor quartile group. And in turn, the 2nd highest risk group >3rd highest risk group >lowest quartile.
  • “It is unknown whether these associations may be reversible.”

My take: While these results show a clear association of early life factors and worsened cardiovascular/metabolic outcomes, the mechanism for this is unclear.  Is this related to diet, less physical activity, stress hormones, a combination or other factors?

Related blog post:

How Often is Arthritis a Presenting Feature of Pediatric IBD & How to Make the Right Diagnosis

A recent retrospective study (R Levy et al. J Pediatr 2019; 209: 233-5) analyzed the musculoskeletal presenting manifestations of pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

In their cohort of 715 patients with IBD, 137 had arthritis and/or arthralgia.  28 of these 137 patients (3.9% of total cohort) had arthritis preceding the diagnosis of IBD and were eligible for this study.  Only 23 had complete data and were compared with 46 children with arthritis due to JIA (n=21), FMF (n=7), and postinfectious arthritis (n=18).

Key findings:

  • Patients with subsequent IBD diagnosis were more likely to have sacroiliac involvement (34.8% vs. 2.2%), more likely to have anemia (mean hgb 10.5 vs 12), more likely to have low albumin (mean 3.5 vs 4.3) and to have higher inflammatory markers (ESR 81 vs 46; CRP 6.6 vs 4.5 mg/dL)
  • In patients with calprotectin levels, 5 of 6 were >300 mg/kg and one was borderline
  • On direct questioning at time of IBD diagnosis, prolonged gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, aphthous ulcers) were evident in 78%.
  • 4 of the 23 (17.3%) were diagnosed with IBD during the primary investigation. Ultimately, Crohn’s diagnosis was established in 87% of the IBD group.

My take: This study is important for pediatricians and rheumatologists. ~4% of children presenting with arthritis have IBD.  Careful interrogation for GI symptoms (and perianal exam) will avoid diagnostic delay in most patients as would a stool calprotectin. Features like sacroileitis, and abnormal labs should also increase the suspicion for IBD.

Briefly noted: In a study discussing pediatrician beliefs about JIA (MR Pavo, J de Inocencio, J Pediatr 2019; 209: 236-9) there is an important caveat for GI doctors:

“It is clear that booster vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella, or varicella zoster virus, can be considered in patients receiving < 15 mg/m-squared/week of MTX [methotrexate]”  (Pediatr Rheumatol Online J 2018; 16: 46).

Related blog post:

  • IBD Update Feb 2019 -last entry shows study indicating that patients with IBD and arthritis were more likely to require biologics.


El Retiro Park, Madrid


Briefly noted: Can We Afford (Multi) Million Dollar New Therapies?

New Gene Therapy: NPR: Zolgensma From Novartis -Most Expensive Medication Ever Approved

An excerpt:

The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved a gene therapy for a rare childhood disorder that is now the most expensive drug on the market. It costs $2.125 million per patient….

Zolgensma’s price tag, he says, is just the most extreme example of how drug prices are draining resources from society. The first gene therapy for an inherited disease was approved in 2017 for a genetic form of blindness. It is also very expensive — $425,000 for each eye.


Psychosis with ADHD Treatments

While I do not prescribe treatments for ADHD, a recent study (LV Moran et al. NEJM 380: 1128-38) was interesting, indicating that amphetamine use was associated with a greater risk of new-onset psychosis than methylphenidate.

Key points:

  • Amphetamine is used for ADHD treatment in the U.S. but rarely in other developed countries. It releases dopamine four times as much as methylphenidate.  “The changes in neurotransmission observed in primary psychosis are more consistent with those induced by amphetamine than methylphenidate”
  • Using data from two commercial insurance databases, the authors compared 221,846 patients receiving either amphetamine or methylphenidate.  There were 343 episodes of new onset psychosis (defined by diagnosis code and prescription for antipsychotic).
  • The risk of psychosis was 0.10% (n=106) in the methylphenidate group compared to 0.21% (n=237) in the amphetamine group. Overall, 1 in 660 patients had new onset psychosis with a greater risk in the patients receiving amphetamine.

My take: Only a prospective study can eliminate confounding variables and determine conclusively whether amphetamine is more likely to increase the risk of psychosis; that said, this study indicates a potential for more risk with amphetamine compared to methylphenidate.

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition