Background Comparing rates of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) in different countries and over time is difficult, as these deaths are certified differently in different countries, and, even within the same jurisdiction, changes in this death certification process have occurred over time.
Aims To identify if International Classification of Diseases-10 (ICD-10) codes are being applied differently in different countries, and to develop a more robust tool for international comparison of these types of deaths.
Methods Usage of six ICD-10 codes, which code for the majority of SUDI, was compared for the years 2002–2010 in eight high-income countries.
Results There was a great variability in how each country codes SUDI. For example, the proportion of SUDI coded as sudden infant death syndrome (R95) ranged from 32.6% in Japan to 72.5% in Germany. The proportion of deaths coded as accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed (W75) ranged from 1.1% in Germany to 31.7% in New Zealand. Japan was the only country to consistently use the R96 code, with 44.8% of SUDI attributed to that code. The lowest, overall, SUDI rate was seen in the Netherlands (0.19/1000 live births (LB)), and the highest in New Zealand (1.00/1000 LB). SUDI accounted for one-third to half of postneonatal mortality in 2002–2010 for all of the countries except for the Netherlands.
Conclusions The proposed set of ICD-10 codes encompasses the codes used in different countries for most SUDI cases. Use of these codes will allow for better international comparisons and tracking of trends over time.