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News

Cot death clues from superbug survival strategy

Society For General Microbiology : 12 September, 2005  (Company News)
Bacteria linked to cot death could be surviving in babies' mattresses, particularly in damp conditions, according to research presented today at the Society for General Microbiology's 157th Meeting at Keele University, UK. Scientists from Leicester found that of the bacteria studied, a common bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus, closely related to the hospital superbug, was the most successful at surviving for long periods in infant cots.
Bacteria linked to cot death could be surviving in babies' mattresses, particularly in damp conditions, according to research presented today at the Society for General Microbiology's 157th Meeting at Keele University, UK.

Scientists from Leicester found that of the bacteria studied, a common bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus, closely related to the hospital superbug, was the most successful at surviving for long periods in infant cots.

'Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, known as SIDS or cot death, is closely linked to infections and toxins produced by three common bacteria,' says Dr Richard Jenkins from De Montfort University, Leicester. 'When a cot mattress has exposed areas of polyurethane foam, or has been used previously by another child, Staphylococcus aureus can more easily persist.'

The researchers looked at the ability of the bacteria to live on three types of mattress covers, comparing PVC, cotton and polyester versions, and exposed polyurethane foam, which is used as cot mattress filling.

'In damp conditions we found that all three types of bacteria could live for more than six months on both polyurethane inner foam and polyester mattress covers,' says Dr Jenkins. 'In dry conditions, only Staphylococcus aureus could survive for such long periods and only on the polyurethane foam itself.'

All the bacteria tested by the scientists could use water soluble material from within the polyurethane inner foam for growth. This provides a plausible explanation for the recognised higher risk from mattresses without a complete waterproof cover.

The research also suggests that because Staphylococcus aureus can survive for long periods on cot mattress foam even in storage, different strains of the bacteria could be transmitted between homes when mattresses are re-used. This would expose infants to new strains of bacteria they have not encountered before, which may explain the increased risk associated with using mattresses previously used by another child.

Because damp mattress conditions are better for bacteria, the scientists think that well ventilating the infant's bedroom could also reduce the danger from harmful bacteria.

Manufacturers may also be able to make safer mattresses by reducing the amount of residual chemicals in the mattresses which are not bound into the polymer network of the foam, as the research shows bacteria can use these molecules for food.

'Our work provides some explanations for the known risk factors for cot death, and should help parents and hospitals improve the safety of their baby bedding,' says Dr Jenkins.
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