Sudden, unexplained deaths rose for Black infants in US, research finds
Despite a record low infant mortality rate in 2020, a new study finds an unexpected jump in unexplained deaths in Black infants during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.
The rate of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, increased by 15% in a single year, from 33.3 deaths per 100,000 babies born in 2019 to 38.2 such deaths in 2020, according to the research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics.
SIDS is a well-known term, and it is used in cases in which the cause of death cannot be definitively explained. It is not used when a child is found to have accidentally been suffocated by a pillow cushion, for example.
In data collection, both SIDS and incidents of accidental suffocation or strangulation fall under the umbrella term SUID, or sudden unexplained infant death.
SIDS data is not broken down by race and ethnicity, but SUID numbers are. That is where researchers found the increase in unexplained deaths in Black infants but not for any other racial or ethnic groups.
The finding "was absolutely a surprise to us," said the study's author, Sharyn Parks Brown, senior epidemiologist for the CDC's Perinatal and Infant Health Team. The racial and ethnic breakdowns of such deaths had been consistent for decades, she said.
Reasons for the jump are unknown. It could be a statistical anomaly — an unexplained blip in the data — that would need to be monitored for several more years to see whether the increase holds.
It could also reflect adjustments the National Association of Medical Examiners made in 2019 to how sudden infant deaths are classified on death certificates.
The guidance said finding babies on or near soft bedding was not enough to qualify such deaths as accidental suffocation without evidence that the children's airways had, indeed, been blocked. Those cases, according to the recommendations, should be classified as SIDS.
"If the new guidance was followed, this could have led to increased reporting of SIDS," the study authors wrote.
Whatever the reason, complex racial disparities clearly persist. Black people were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, both by illness and the economic stress that accompanied the pandemic.
According to an editorial published alongside the study, Black people are more than twice as likely as whites to live in poverty.
"And among families with children, homelessness is 50% more likely among those who identify as non-Hispanic Black," the authors wrote.
Source: NBC News