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Groups focus on SUIDS education, prevention

Emily Womble, child fatality review coordinator, gives a presentation at Shenandoah University on Tuesday about Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome. Katie Demeria/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University and the Lord Fairfax Health District are teaming up to raise awareness about preventable infant fatalities.

They hosted a Sudden Unexpected Infant Death workshop Tuesday at SU as part of their ongoing effort to engage the community in the effort to fight SUIDS.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is categorized as the natural and unpreventable passing of a child less than a year old, is distinct from SUIDS -- the U, which can stand for "unexpected" or "unexplained," suggests it is unclear whether or not the child's death was natural or caused by factors within the home, according to Emily Womble, child fatality review coordinator for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner at the Virginia Department of Health.

"SUIDS is an undetermined death -- it could be SIDS, it could be accidental suffocation," Womble said.

SUIDS suggests there was some other risk factor within the home that may have contributed to the infant's death.

"The overall infant mortality rate has remained consistent despite the decline in SIDS," Womble continued. "So you've heard of the decline in SIDS, but the overall infant mortality rate has stayed constant. Part of that is that SUIDS diagnosis."

Womble and her team researched the 119 sleep-related infant deaths that occurred in Virginia in 2009. The team found that none of those cases were unpreventable.

Assistant Public Health Professor Audra Gollenberg said the preventability of SUIDS spurred SU and the Lord Fairfax Health District to start a new community education campaign.

"This is all meant to raise awareness and educate people about the risk factors involved," Gollenberg said. "We feel passionate that by getting the information out there we can make a difference."

Cases of SUIDS are almost always sleep-related deaths, and are thus preventable if appropriate precautions are taken to ensure infants are sleeping in a safe sleep environment.

Many cases of SUIDS occur in environments in which the children are not given proper room to move, or in which their sleeping locations change on a fairly regular basis, such as in cases of homelessness.

Overcrowded homes and cluttered or unkempt sleep environments can also contribute to the risk of SUIDS.

According to Sharon Veith, perinatal outreach coordinator for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia, smoking can largely increase the risk of SUIDS.

"It can happen to anyone, and there's no knowing what causes SIDS itself," Veith said. "But you can reduce the risk factors."

Veith said having infants sleep on their backs at all times greatly reduces the risk for SIDS and SUIDS. Breastfeeding has been known to prevent the syndrome as well, as has encouraging the infant to sleep with a pacifier.

According to Gollenberg and Charles Devine III, Lord Fairfax Health District health director, the campaign is in its first stage. For now, they hope to gather information from the community about what services are needed.

The second stage would include intervening in the community to raise awareness for SUIDS and how to lower risk factors.

"We don't want to say 'this is what we need to do,'" Devine said. "We want to ask, 'what is it we need to do?'"

For more information on SUIDS and SIDS, go to www.nichd.nih.gov/SIDS

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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