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Plastic mattress covers and accidental suffocation

27 July 1999

Plastic mattress covers and accidental suffocation in infants

The Ministry of Health is warning all parents to take care to unwrap the plastic from babies' mattresses, following the recent death from accidental suffocation of a Wellington child whose mattress was wrapped in a plastic bag.

Ministry spokesman Dr Pat Tuohy says plastic sheeting and plastic bags were widely acknowledged by health and consumer protection agencies to carry a risk of suffocation for infants.

"Sadly, tragedies like this which are potentially avoidable, still occur," Dr Tuohy, Chief Advisor Child and Youth Health, said.

Dr Tuohy today gave evidence at a Coroner's hearing into the death of a Wellington baby. The hearing has been adjourned.

He said in evidence that it was clear from international research that plastic sheeting and bags are a potential hazard in an infant's environment.

"In case reports of suffocation in which the plastic is described, it is often thin plastic bags such as dry-cleaning bags, although case reports from Australia, and the USA, have explicitly implicated plastic mattress covers of an unknown thickness and composition in a number of suffocation episodes.

"Rubbish bags containing clothing and other plastic materials thicker than 100 microns, and plastic bags used to protect the mattresses from soiling whilst in storage or on display have also been implicated, " Dr Tuohy said.

Another, Californian, review found 32 per cent of accidental infant deaths from suffocation or strangulation were caused by suffocation by plastic.

The Ministry of Health is aware that polythene mattress covers with the trade-name "Babesafe" are currently sold in New Zealand and some overseas countries. The Ministry of Health is not aware of any reported instances of suffocation associated with these bags. The Ministry advises parents to seek information from their GP or Plunket nurse on how best to keep their infant's sleeping environment safe.


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