Toxigenic Escherichia coli associated with sudden infant death syndrome

Scand J Infect Dis. 1990;22(4):467-76. doi: 10.3109/00365549009027079.


The role of Escherichia coli as a cause of sudden infant death syndrome was investigated prospectively. Strains of E. coli producing the heat labile enterotoxin (LT) or the Vero-cell cytotoxin (VT) were isolated from the intestinal contents of 21/46 infants who died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). None were found in the contemporaneously sampled faeces of 24 normal live infants in the same area. Live infants were used as controls in the absence of dead infants who had not died of SIDS. This high incidence of toxigenic E. coli among the SIDS infants versus the low incidence in controls, together with the general rarity of finding such toxigenic E. coli in the community of a temperate developed country, made us conclude that there may be a causal relationship between toxigenic E. coli and SIDS. The O and H serotypes of the toxigenic E. coli associated with SIDS infants tended not to be those normally considered to be toxigenic. The toxigenicity appeared to be relatively labile. It is suggested that SIDS may be associated with the infant either acquiring these unusual types of E. coli or more likely that its normal resident E. coli acquire the plasmids to produce these toxins.

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Bacterial Toxins / isolation & purification*
  • Enterotoxins / isolation & purification*
  • Escherichia coli / isolation & purification
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins*
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Shiga Toxin 1
  • Species Specificity
  • Sudden Infant Death / epidemiology
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Enterotoxins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Shiga Toxin 1
  • heat-labile enterotoxin, E coli