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Bizarre deaths in young children

Bizarre deaths in young children

Some people think cot death only occurs at night when the baby is asleep. The cause of this bizarre death is not known to science but it is suspected that there may be many different problems, or combinations of problems, which can lead to this form of death.

For example, infections, environmental contaminants or, more rarely, an inherited genetic problem, may be important factors especially if the baby is exposed to them at a stage where he is still immature and less able to deal with stress.

Exact figures on the number of infants who succumb to this surreal form of death are hard to come by in Tanzania but an average of ten infants die every week in health facilities and homes. The majority of cot death babies are aged below six months.

Although the cause is unknown to medical scientists, some factors seem to increase the risk, including putting the baby to sleep face down, exposure to cigarette smoke, overheating and sharing a bed with parents -- especially when one or both are drunk.

However, it is common practice for most tribal settings in Tanzania to share a bed with infants. In nearly all cases the infant sleeps between its parents. It has been determined, however, that this bed-sharing culture does not seem to increase the risk.

The risk of cot death is also higher among poor families. It has been determined that it is rare for a cot death to occur twice in the same family. In general, infants appear to die peacefully in their sleep without distress or previous warning symptoms.

In nearly all cases parents discover with shock that their baby is not breathing. In rare cases, an infant who is close to death can be successfully resuscitated. In rural Tanzania cases of cot death are often linked to witchcraft by superstitious parents or relatives.

It is also possible for a sophisticated family to suspect a baby sitter over foul play if cot death occurs in an infant during the day in the absence of parents. Such death, however, should be fully investigated by the police and a post mortem carried out.

Since sudden death syndrome is a bizarre occurrence that still confounds the medical world it may seem difficult to avoid it.  However, risk can be reduced by always putting the young baby to sleep on its back in bed, a cot or a sofa.

It is also prudent that both parents stop smoking during pregnancy. Once the baby is born parents or other people in the family should avoid exposing him to cigarette smoke. Parents should also make sure their baby does not get too hot.
 
When in bed the baby's head should always be uncovered. A very young baby should always be “wrapped” properly in a warm soft sheet its head showing. Babies who sleep alone in cots should be inspected from time to time.
 
Parents should never fall asleep leaving their baby on the sofa. The risk here is that the baby may wriggle on the sofa and end up sleeping face down. In this aspect, suffocation is a possibility, especially for very young babies.
 
I must point out here that parents who cannot stop smoking and those who drink alcohol excessively should not share beds with their babies.  It is also prudent that if one parent has taken medical drugs that make him drowsy should not share a bed with a baby.

Now, let us look at the common problem of tummy ache in infants. Like cot death, some cases of tummy ache in infants baffle medical science. In the majority of cases, the cause is minor or never found.

In nearly half of children admitted to hospital with abdominal pain, the problem settles without a diagnosis. More than ten per cent of schoolchildren have recurrent tummy ache for several weeks but a cause is only ever found in only one in ten.

However, in some cases there may be serious causes and it is important to deal with them before a child becomes very ill. Serious complications that may cause abdominal pain include gastroenteritis, appendicitis and urinary tract infections.

Less serious causes include stress, constipation and inflammation of the lymph glands known as mesenteric adenitis - a harmless condition linked to viral infections, which soon settles. Almost every child experiences tummy ache now and then for some reason.

Tummy ache may also result from trauma to the abdomen, obstruction of the intestines, a hernia, sickle cell disease, migraine, lead poisoning and conditions outside the abdomen, such as pneumonia or hip problems.

The pattern of pain - what it is like, where it is and what makes it worse - may be a clue to the cause. For example, generalized pain that moves to the lower right side of the abdomen and gets more severe is typical of appendicitis.

Pain that is relieved when the child opens their bowels is commonly reported in irritable bowel syndrome. However, there are plenty of exceptions to these rules. The cause of tummy ache can be difficult to establish.

If parents are worried, they should take the child to a medical doctor. In most cases, however, the pain disappears in a few hours without treatment. The child should lie in a comfortable position with a warm (not hot) pack to hold against his tummy.

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Author: SOTHENES PAULO MWITA

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