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Incidence of Shaken Baby Syndrome Found to Increase During Periods of Economic Stress

Tragically, infants experience severe or fatal head trauma as a result of intentional abuse. Shaken baby syndrome, now commonly referred to as non-accidental head trauma, is a serious form of abuse inflicted upon a child. It usually occurs when a parent or other caregiver shakes a baby out of anger or frustration, often because the baby will not stop crying. Babies have very weak neck muscles that cannot fully support their proportionately large heads. Severe shaking causes the baby’s head to move violently back and forth, resulting in serious and sometimes fatal brain injury. These forces are exaggerated if the shaking is interrupted by the baby’s head hitting a surface.

An estimated 1,300 children in the US experience severe or fatal head trauma associated with child abuse every year. Non-fatal consequences of abusive head trauma include varying degrees of visual impairment, motor impairment, cognitive impairments, and in the worst cases, an irreversible vegetative state.

Researchers at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland analyzed the correlation between non-accidental head trauma in infants and periods of economic recession. The results of this study, Rise in Non-Accidental Head Trauma Incidence and Severity in Infants Associated with Economic Recession, will be presented by during the 79th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons in Denver.

The authors examined the trauma database at their institution for non-accidental head trauma (NAHT) incidents incurred by infants under the age of 2 during a period of non-recession (December 2001-November 2007) and during a period of recession (December 2007-June 2010). Of 639 infants under the age of 2 admitted for traumatic injuries, 93 were NAHT cases.

The analysis yielded the following statistics:

•NAHT incidence doubled from non-recession to recession periods: 50 cases/72 months versus 43 cases/31 months (p=0.01).

 “Financial stresses such as unemployment, foreclosure, and difficulties finding adequate childcare are likely exacerbated during a recession. We found an increase in the number of infants who were evaluated for abusive head trauma at our institution during the recent recession, compared to the prior non-recession period. The complex social issues that led to this trauma are beyond the scope of our research, but certainly warrant further study,” said Ms. Huang, lead investigator on the study.

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