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June 6, 1990

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Another Hypothesis Offered but Doubts Remain

JAMA. 1990;263(21):2865-2869. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440210015006

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A MAMMALIAN self-protection mechanism could explain the mystery of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), says a University of London researcher. But doubts are being expressed on this side of the Atlantic.

The syndrome incidence peaks at 3 to 4 months of age. Defined as sudden death that is unexpected by history and unexplainable at postmortem examination, SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants aged 28 days to 12 months in the Western world.

However, as with the many other SIDS theories, the latest one appears to offer little help in pinpointing potential victims.

Donald Harrison, MD, PhD, a British professor of laryngology and otology who is offering the latest theory, says milk-dependent animals, including humans, at (the human age equivalent of) 3 to 4 months "protect their larynx with high epiglottic folds containing not cartilage, but mucous glands," which allows them to drink quickly.

Lethal Reduction?  Sudden infant