Cot death linked to mattresses
By Zoe Satherley
Learning that their old cot mattress could be harbouring a deadly superbug related to cot death came as a shock to Lennox Head parents Tarja and Greg Kelly.
New research shows that up to half of all cot deaths may be caused by a bug which breeds in babies' mattresses.
The bacteria, which is related to the superbug MRSA, multiplies quickly in cot mattress foam, preying on newborns' immune systems, scientists have found.
This was frightening news to the Kelly family, who have just brought home twins Nathanael and Siobhan, now three weeks old. "We didn't think twice about using the old cot mattress used by both our sons, Sebastian, 3, and Matthew, 2," Tarja said.
"We just dusted it off. It was a good mattress when we bought it, and the springs are still perfectly fine, so there seemed no reason not to use it. Now I'm not sure what to do because we really can't afford to replace it. We will certainly make sure we cover it well with plastic."
The Kellys were surprised to hear of the groundbreaking research by UK scientist Dr Richard Jenkins, of De Montfort University, which has shown that the deadly organism staphylococcus aureus can survive in beds not used for months.
When an infant is placed on a polyurethane foam filling which contains strains of the bacteria, his or her underdeveloped immune system cannot fight off the toxins.
Dr Jenkins has warned parents not to use cot mattresses for more than one child.
The research may explain why sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death ? the biggest single cause of death in infants under a year old ? is more common among second and subsequent children.
Dr Jenkins found 50 per cent of SIDS infants had elevated levels of staphylococcus aureus toxin.
Researchers looked at the ability of three types of bacteria to live on three types of mattress covers: PVC, cotton and polyester, and exposed polyurethane foam.
In damp conditions all bacteria could live for more than six months on both polyurethane inner foam and polyester mattress covers.
In dry conditions only staphylococcus aureus survived for such long periods on the foam.
The bacteria survives by feeding on water-soluble material in the polyurethane foam.
In New Zealand, which had the world's highest incidence of SIDS, a campaign to wrap mattresses in PVC has had a 100 per cent success rate among 100,000 babies, he said.
More SIDS info: www.sids andkids.org or www.mja.com. au/public/issues www.health insite.gov.au/topics/Sudden _Infant_Death_Syndrome__SIDS