A two year prospective study was performed to determine the epidemiology of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, non-accidental poisoning, and non-accidental suffocation in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Cases were notified to the British Paediatric Association Surveillance Unit from September 1992 to August 1994 if a formal case conference had been held for the first time during that period to discuss any of the above conditions. A total of 128 cases were identified: 55 suffered Munchausen syndrome by proxy alone, 15 poisoning, and 15 suffocation; 43 suffered more than one type of abuse. The majority of children were aged under 5 years, the median age being 20 months. On 85% of occasions the perpetrator was the child's mother. In 42% of families with more than one child, a sibling had previously suffered some form of abuse. Eighty five per cent of notifying paediatricians considered the probability of their diagnosis as virtually certain before a case conference was convened. The commonest drugs used to poison were anticonvulsants; opiates were the second commonest. Sixty eight children suffered severe illness of whom eight died. The combined annual incidence of these conditions in children aged under 16 years is at least 0.5/100,000, and for children aged under 1, at least 2.8/100,000.
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