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Forensic Sci Int. 2012 Jul 10;220(1-3):80-4. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.01.030. Epub 2012 Feb 24.

Clinicopathological features of sudden unexpected infectious death: population-based study in children and young adults.

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Forensic Pathology Service, Basque Institute of Legal Medicine, Bilbao, Spain.



Infectious diseases are one of the major causes of sudden death, but data of sudden unexpected death from infectious diseases (SUDID) are sparse in children and young people. The aim of this study is to analyse their epidemiological, clinical, pathological and microbiological characteristics.


Population observational study of all deaths due to infectious diseases in people aged 0-34 years in Biscay between 1991 and 2010. The data of Mortality Register and Forensic Pathology Service were analysed. The SUDID cases in which a forensic autopsy was performed were identified.


There were 56 SUDID cases (16% of the all sudden deaths). Myocarditis (n=20) and acute bacterial bronchopneumonia/pneumonia (n=18) were the most frequent causes, followed by meningococcemia (n=5) and viral pneumonia (n=4). A chronic co-morbid condition (mainly drug abuse in young people and moderate low birth weight in infants) was recorded in one-third and prodromal symptoms in two-thirds. Seventeen young people had consumed illegal drugs and/or methadone. In 17 of the 23 autopsies where microbiological analyses were performed, the organism responsible was identified. The incidence of SUDID was 0.6/100000 inhabitants/year, representing 5% of all deaths from infectious diseases. SUDID rate was 1.87 times higher in males than in females. The highest incidence occurred in infants (3.7).


SUDID is infrequent, but it represents a significant proportion of all sudden deaths in children and young people. The relationship between methadone and bronchopneumonia is noticeable. This article stresses the importance of microbiological analyses in SUDID. Investigation based on forensic pathology provides useful epidemiologic, clinico-pathological and microbiological information for prevention of infectious diseases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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