All early childhood deaths within a total population of 297 000 were studied by prospective methods. 70 deaths of children aged 1 week to 5 years occurred during a 27-month period; 36 died at home, 29 suddenly and unexpectedly. An extensive standardized necropsy showed a disease process clearly or probably related to death in half the sudden unexpected deaths; in the remainder no recognized disease process was identified. The events preceding sudden unexpected death, and the child's environment, were investigated by a controlled parental interview. Symptoms of serious illness within 24 hours of death were identified in 9 of the 29 children, but in the majority symptoms were thought to have been absent or no more severe than those of the control children. Most children with major symptoms had been seen by a doctor within a few days of death. The two most striking social findings were that 16 of the 29 sudden unexpected deaths occurred at a weekend or bank holiday, and that 45% occurred in three adjacent city wards which contain only 13% of the under-five study population. The additional support and explanation provided during the home visits was greatly appreciated by the bereaved families.
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