The risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) parallel those associated with susceptibility to or severity of infectious diseases. There is no evidence that a single infectious agent is associated with SIDS; the common thread appears to be induction of inflammatory responses to infections. In this review, interactions between genetic and environmental risk factors for SIDS are assessed in relation to the hypothesis that many infant deaths result from dysregulation of inflammatory responses to "minor" infections. Risk factors are assessed in relation to three important stages of infection: (1) bacterial colonization (frequency or density); (2) induction of temperature-dependent toxins; (3) induction or control of inflammatory responses. In this article, we review the interactions among risk factors for SIDS for their effects on induction or control of inflammatory responses. The risk factors studied are genetic factors (sex, cytokine gene polymorphisms among ethnic groups at high or low risk of SIDS); developmental stage (changes in cortisol and testosterone levels associated with 2- to 4-month age range); environmental factors (virus infection, exposure to cigarette smoke). These interactions help to explain differences in the incidences of SIDS observed between ethnic groups prior to public health campaigns to reduce these infant deaths.
Keywords: cigarette smoke; ethnicity; infection; inflammation; sudden infant death syndrome.