U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Scientists Look for Connection Between Toxin-causing Bacterium and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2021

This NIJ article details research into bacterium that causes food poisoning and other diseases and may underly some Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) cases.


Sudden unexpected infant death, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), results in about 3,400 deaths each year in the United States, but despite decades of research the root cause of the SIDS disease remains unknown. This article details how National Institute of Justice-supported researchers are exploring the hypothesis that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome may be triggered by environmental exposure to Clostridium perfringens enterotoxin (CPE). This known human pathogen has been found in earlier studies to be in the intestinal tracts of up to 80 percent of SIDS infants compared to 20 percent of healthy infants. In NIJ-funded research, scientists showed that “the infant brainstem respiratory center is indeed susceptible to damage by bloodborne CPE dissemination” that causes “the inflammatory scarring that has been observed in brain samples harvested from SIDS victims.”

Date Published: December 1, 2021