Climate change increases Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

When we think of climate change, we think of how hot the summers are. Those days when the air just doesn't seem to move and without air-conditioning or some shade things can be pretty unpleasant. Today in Ontario, Canada we still have a couple of feet of snow on the ground so summer heat seems like a long time away. 


Heat alerts are becoming more frequent in Canada. In 2012 Toronto issued 21 heat alerts, 13 in 2013 and 1 in 2014. We know from the 2003 heatwave in Europe that the elderly are especially vulnerable to heat stress and must be given extra support during heat alerts. However a new study by Auger at al. 2015 published in Environmental Health Perspectives identifies the vulnerability of babies during heat alerts. The study looks at the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and the ambient temperature. The causes of SIDS remain unknown but researchers believe the undeveloped thermoregulatory ability of infants is a risk factor. Taking this into account Auger et al. 2015 asked the question 'does the incidence of SIDS increase during hot weather?' A very important question given the increasing frequency of heat alerts as the climate warms. The study at the looked at infant deaths from 1981 to 2010 in Montreal, Canada.


The results of the study indicated an increase in the SIDS with higher ambient temperatures. Daily temperatures of 29c or higher had almost 3 times greater risk of SIDS than at 20c. Babies 3-12 months old were at greater risk than those of 1-2 months old.


The frequency of heat alerts will rise as summer temperatures increase as the climate changes, so will infants deaths from SIDS. Parents, healthcare professionals, and first responders must be educated on the vulnerability of this group. Those infants in lower income housing where air conditioning is not present must be identified and families given extra assistance to manage at these times.


Auger et al., 2015. Ambient Heat and Sudden Infant Death: A case-crossover study spanning 30 years in Montreal, Canada.