Objective: An apparent decrease in deaths attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has been noted in a number of diverse geographical areas during the past several years. At the same time the definition of SIDS has been in a state of flux and some observers have raised the possibility that the fall in SIDS deaths is due to diagnostic transfer rather than to a genuine decrease in numbers. The present study was undertaken to investigate this possibility.
Methodology: All sudden and unexpected deaths in infants under 1 year of age in South Australia during a 10 year period from 1984 to 1993 were reviewed.
Results: The number of deaths due to SIDS fell from 40 in 1984 to 17 in 1993, with a maximum of 52 cases per year in 1987. In contrast, the number of cases of sudden death not due to SIDS remained under 10 per year. The overall infant death rate also fell, while the total number of births per year remained relatively unchanged.
Conclusions: The lack of major change in sudden infant death rates from other causes, combined with the fall in SIDS deaths, is not supportive of diagnostic transfer being a major determinant of the declining SIDS death rate. Therefore, other factors are likely to be responsible for the falling SIDS rate in this population.