Fan use linked to lower risk of sudden baby death

By CARLA K. JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer Tue Oct 7

CHICAGO - Using a fan to circulate air seemed to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome in a study of nearly 500 babies, researchers reported Monday. Placing babies on their backs to sleep is the best advice for preventing SIDS, a still mysterious cause of death.

Experts also recommend a firm mattress, removing toys and pillows from cribs, and keeping infants from getting too warm.

Such practices helped slash U.S. SIDS deaths by more than half over a decade to about 2,100 in 2003. But SIDS remains the leading cause of death in infants ages 1 month to 1 year.

"The baby's sleeping environment really matters," said study senior author Dr. De-Kun Li of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. "This seems to suggest that by improving room ventilation we can further reduce risk."

SIDS is the sudden death of an otherwise healthy infant that can't be attributed to any other cause. These babies may have brain abnormalities that prevent them from gasping and waking when they don't get enough oxygen.

The new study, published in October's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, offers another way to make sure babies get enough air.

More research is needed, said Dr. Fern Hauck of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, but she said that because fan use is in line with theories, it may be worth considering.

"This is the first study that we know of that has looked at this issue," said Hauck, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics SIDS task force.

Researchers interviewed mothers of 185 infants who died from SIDS and mothers of 312 infants of similar race and age. Moms answered dozens of questions about their baby's sleeping environment.

Researchers took into account other risk factors and found that fan use was associated with a 72 percent lower risk of SIDS. Only 3 percent of the babies who died had a fan on in the room during their last sleep, the mothers reported. That compared to 12 percent of the babies who lived.

Using a fan reduced risk most for babies in poor sleeping environments.

The study involved infants in 11 California counties. It was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Epilogue

The linking of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome to Stuffy Air raises new questions about the importance of air circulation on aircraft where lower cabin pressures already reduce blood oxygen content while flying versus normal on-the-ground levels.

Stuffy air in aircraft passenger cabins is a common problem but its impacts on passenger and crew health, with whom the lower cabin air pressure coincidentally contributes to decreased blood oxygen content while flying versus normal on-the-ground levels, are not known.

Why is stuffy air common in passenger cabins? It is due to the crowding of many people in a small space, and the low air circulation rates being provided (circulation rates are one-sixth those in offices, for example). While turning on overhead gaspers or personal air outlets will improve the air circulation and help eliminate stuffiness, the high velocity gasper air stream will coincidently entrain air-borne germs emanating from nearby persons and bring them to the breathing zone. Furthering disease spread opportunities while flying is is obviously not a good idea! It is particularly worrisome when you realize that your neighbours on the plane could be from another city or even another country and could well be expiring germs to which you and your children have not developed an immunity.

This gasper air stream pathogen-entrainment concern will be remedied by a new device soon to be available. With it, turning on your overhead gasper will be a way for improving the quality of the air surrounding you and eliminating "stuffy" air. Known as the Personal Environment Airflow Controller or PEACE, this device will modify gasper air flows so as to filter and supply the air currently being entrained unfiltered by your gasper. With the PEACE device add-on, a gasper outlet will become your personal on-board air cleaner and air circulation device to turn on, regulate and direct. If you want to know more about the PEACE technology, please fill out the VEFT Aerospace Inquiry Form.

Douglas S. Walkinshaw, Ph.D., P.Eng.