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Guidelines for Death Scene Investigation of Sudden, Unexplained Infant Deaths: Recommendations of the Interagency Panel on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 1996
31 pages
This report presents the Interagency Panel's short-form protocol developed to standardize the investigation of sudden, unexplained infant deaths (SUID's); to ensure that information pertinent to determining the cause, manner, and circumstances of an infant death is considered in each investigation; and to assist researchers in accurately determining the cause of and risk factors for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
SUID's are those for which no cause of death was obvious when the infant died. SIDS (also known as crib death) is the most frequently determined cause of SUID's. SIDS is the sudden death of an infant under 1 year old that remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history. Because these criteria are often not met and because practices for case investigation vary in the United States, efforts to determine the cause of and risk factors for SIDS have been impeded. The short-form protocol for SUID's investigations contains guidelines that set the stage for standardized investigative procedures, data-collection instruments, and training for SUID scene investigations. The guidelines emphasize the central role of medical examiners and coroners in public health surveillance and epidemiological research on SUID's. The protocol features the completion of the Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Investigation Report Form (SUIDIRF). Page 1 of the form documents the date and time of critical events and briefly describes the circumstances of the infant's death. Page 2 provides information on the infant's usual health-care provider, prenatal and birth history, medical history, medication history, and resuscitation attempts used in an effort to revive the infant. Page 3 has questions regarding the investigator's personal observations regarding the case. Page 4 solicits information obtained from interviews and procedures related to the investigation, including an overall assessment regarding whether findings suggest SIDS or another diagnosis or injury. Page 5 contains a diagram of the immediate area surrounding the infant when he/she was discovered dead, unresponsive, or in distress. The concluding page of the form contains an illustration of the infant's body for the purpose of noting marks, bruises, discolorations, drainage from orifices, and other observations. The SUIDIRF is appended.