Background: Previous studies indicate that the enteral bacterial urease is inhibited in victims of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). One possible inhibitor of this bacterial activity is nitrate. If ambient pollution by nitrate is involved in the etiology of SIDS only a fraction of the nitrate concentration not infrequently found in drinking water would be enough for this inhibition.
Methods: Occurrence of SIDS (n = 636) in Sweden during the period 1990 through 1996 were analysed regarding geographical and seasonal distribution in relation to the nitrate concentration in drinking water and changes in the groundwater level.
Results: Both the birth rate and the incidence of SIDS decreased during the study period. One quarter of the municipalities constituting 11% of the population had no cases, the maximum incidence being 6.5 per 1000 live births. Seasonality: The northernmost parts of the country had its highest incidence when the rest of the country had its lowest incidence, and the occurrence of individual deaths was associated with the recharge of groundwater which increases its nitrate content. The local incidence of SIDS was correlated (rs = 0.34-0.87) to maximally recorded concentrations of nitrate in drinking water.
Conclusions: The seasonal distribution of SIDS was widely different from the south to the north of the country and seems to be associated with differences in the groundwater level changes subsequent to precipitation, frost penetration, and melting of snow. Use of drinking water with high peak concentrations or great variations in nitrate concentration was correlated to the incidence of SIDS.