ROUEN, France (Reuters) - Scientists warned parents Monday that smoking and high room temperatures increased the likelihood of crib death, the mysterious syndrome that kills tens of thousands of infants a year.
At a medical conference on the condition in Rouen, northern France, researchers expressed satisfaction that infant mortality due to crib death had plummeted in recent years as parents learned the correct way to lay their children down to sleep.
Scientists said the remaining deaths could be caused by a variety of factors ranging from smoking to viral or bacterial infections.
"Despite the fantastic decline in the death rate, cot death remains the main cause of infant mortality in the developed world and particularly in France," said Dr Eric Mallet, a French expert.
Crib death is the sudden and unexplained death of an infant, most common among babies aged between 4 and 6 months.
Until the early 1990s, doctors had recommended that babies be laid down to sleep on their stomachs for fear they might choke if they vomited in their sleep.
However, this view was subsequently discredited and doctors now advise parents to lie their infants on their backs. In France alone, this change has reduced the number of crib deaths from 1,900 in 1991 to fewer than 500 last year, French scientists said.
Among the factors now being studied as potential explanations for the remaining deaths are smoking and high bedroom temperatures, Mallet told France 3 television.
"One must pay a lot of attention to the temperature of the room, which should not exceed 18 degrees (64 degrees Fahrenheit). One must also avoid smoking in an apartment where there is a baby. This would enable us to dramatically reduce the number of deaths," Mallet said.
Studies to be presented during the conference will examine possible links between crib death and viral or bacterial infections, as well as abnormalities in the parts of the brain controlling breathing and the heart.
If the syndrome were linked to viral infection, this would raise the possibility of the development of a vaccine. If a genetic defect were found to be responsible, this could lead to DNA testing at birth to determine which children are most susceptible.
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