Sudden infant death is every new mom’s worst nightmare. In fact, thousands of dollars every year are spent preventing it. In addition to the frequent pediatrician visits, mothers will also spend as much money as they need to on baby monitors, portable bassinets, high quality day cares, and even home renovation to decrease the likelihood that their infant will suffer from SIDS when they aren’t looking. It’s no wonder moms are so concerned about it, considering it is not at all an uncommon problem. However, the annual number of SIDS victims every year has decreased drastically since mothers learned that babies should be sleeping on their backs to prevent suffocation, but there are still enough cases to cause concern. Since the sudden death of an infant is so alarming for a mom, you can imagine the importance of studies that find new causes for it. 

One recent study in particular showed that a condition called pneumocystis was linked to sudden infant deaths. In fact, 84% of infants who died suddenly and for unexplained reasons had pneumocystis in their systems. Pneumocystis is a fungus that is actually not uncommon at all, but people with compromised immune systems are very vulnerable to it. Obviously, babies are still developing, so their immune systems are not strong enough to fight the fungal infection. When it becomes serious, it restricts the airways, and it actually simulates the feeling of suffocation. In that way, it’s a similar cause to the one originally discovered where infants were rolling onto their stomachs and suffocating themselves by covering their airways. The fungus causes airflow to cease in the system, and even a short cessation can cause death in a tiny baby. Babies are not supposed to hold their breath, and consistent oxygen is needed for existence.

The symptoms for the fungus can be difficult to notice in an infant, and by the time they are present, it has already become serious. However, if you notice your baby acting ill in any way, take him to the pediatrician immediately. Always mention whether or not your baby has been coughing. That way, the doctor might be able to diagnose the condition as pneumocystis right away, and treatment can begin. Bottom line, it’s probably not pneumocystis. Chances are, your infant is not going to die suddenly. It’s easy to make yourself sick about it, but rest assured that he’ll probably be fine.

Source: Sergio Vargas et al: Near Universal Prevalence of Pneumocystis and Associated Increase in Mucus in the Lungs of Infants with Sudden Unexpected Death. Clinical Infectious Diseases Volume 56 Issue 2 pp. 171-179 2013

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