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J Forensic Sci. 2012 Mar;57(2):364-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2011.01937.x. Epub 2011 Oct 7.

Differentiating cause-of-death terminology for deaths coded as sudden infant death syndrome, accidental suffocation, and unknown cause: an investigation using US death certificates, 2003-2004.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Reproductive Health, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA.


We compared written text on infant death certificates for deaths coded as sudden infant death syndrome (R95), unknown cause (R99), and accidental suffocation (W75). Using US mortality files supplemented with the death certifiers' written text for all infant deaths with International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 assigned codes R95, R99, and W75, we formed cause-of-death subcategories from common themes identified from the written text. Among all infant deaths in 2003-2004, the underlying cause of death was listed as R99 for 2128 deaths, R95 for 4408 deaths, and W75 for 931 deaths. Among the postneonatal deaths, the differences in subcategories varied between assigned ICD-10 codes: for R99-coded deaths, 45.8% were categorized as "Unknown" and 48.6% as "Pending"; for R95-coded deaths, 67.7% were categorized as "sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)"; and for W75-coded deaths, 76.4% were categorized as "Suffocation." Examination of the written text on the death certificates demonstrates variability in the assigned ICD-10 codes which could have an important effect on the estimates of SIDS cases in the United States.

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