Despite gains made by the "Back to Sleep" campaigns launched in the 1990s, sudden unexpected infant death – or SUID – remains a significant risk for infants, and rates have not improved in the past decade. Classifying and tracking the causes of these deaths is important to clarify dangerous sleep conditions and develop consistent safe sleep messages, but there can be great variation and confusion in how to categorize deaths when the cause is uncertain.
In an article in the July 2014 Pediatrics, "Classification System for the Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Case Registry and its Application," published online June 9, researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe the system they developed to classify infant deaths in seven states participating in a new SUID Case Registry pilot program.
A decision-making algorithm guides staff through a series of questions related to the death scene investigation, unsafe sleep factors, suffocation factors and other concerning findings. Researchers used the algorithm to classify the 436 SUID cases identified in the seven states in 2011, and found most (382 cases) occurred in an unsafe sleep environment.
The authors conclude the classification system has performed well when categorizing challenging cases. If used in more states, it would allow local and state programs to more accurately track the magnitude of specific types of SUID over time, improving the ability to identify the highest risk groups who may benefit from interventions.