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November 4, 2011

Marla Augustine, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-4047 or

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Child Death Review Team Releases Report

Lincoln—The state’s Child Death Review Team released its report on the 551 child deaths that occurred in 2007 and 2008, finding that at least 20 percent were preventable.

“Out of 551 deaths, at least 165 could have been prevented,” said Dr. Joseph Acierno, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, who served as chair of the Team. “The education of parents and the involvement of communities and health care providers can make a big difference in reducing the number of preventable deaths.”

In 2007 and 2008, the top causes of death were conditions related to pregnancy, birth defects and motor vehicle-related accidents.

Ranking first, nearly one-third (176) of all child deaths were the result of a combined category of prematurity or maternal complications during pregnancy, labor and delivery.

Premature birth was a leading factor in infant deaths (161). The most common maternal complication leading to premature birth was the separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, also known as placental abruption (19 deaths). Infections of the placental tissue and fluids (13) and a weakening of the cervix (9) were also factors in premature births. Pregnancies involving more than one infant accounted for over half (57 percent) of the 95 infant deaths with no other apparent cause for their prematurity.

Birth defects were the second most common underlying cause of death (118), the most common being chromosomal anomalies (28), heart defects (20) and neural tube defects (13). Neural tube defects can largely be prevented by the prenatal intake of folic acid. The causes of most birth defects are unknown.

Motor vehicle-related incidents were the third most frequent cause of death (113). At least half of children (50 percent) in motor vehicles were not buckled in at the time of the crash. Alcohol was involved in at least 12 of the fatal crashes. This category included children who were biking (1) or riding on a scooter or sled (2). Two children were involved in all-terrain vehicle crashes. Teens ages 15-17 accounted for two-thirds (35) of these deaths.

Among infants, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, accounted for 33 deaths in 2007 and 2008 combined. The number for 2008 (15) was the lowest since 1980. A death is considered SIDS if the actual cause is unknown.

The Team found that among infants, 42 died from sleep-associated causes. Including the 33 SIDS deaths, an additional nine deaths occurred under similar circumstances. Nearly all had one or more risk factors, like exposure to tobacco smoke, bed-sharing with an adult or sibling, being put to sleep on stomach or side, and/or sleeping on an inappropriate surface such as a couch or an adult bed.

While the majority of SIDS and suffocation deaths were among white children (67 percent), 26 percent were among African-Americans, clearly disproportionate to the percentage of this population in Nebraska (7.6 percent of all infants).

At least nine children died from diseases that are potentially vaccine-preventable, such as bacterial meningitis and respiratory syncytial virus. Another 16 deaths were due to acute respiratory diseases, including four cases of asthma.

While the majority of all child deaths were of white children (79 percent), the percentage representing black children is increasing over time—11 percent in the 1996-2001 report to 14 percent in 2007 and 2008. Hispanic children also represent an increasing percentage of all child deaths—from 9 percent to 14 percent during the same time period.

The report included these recommendations to reduce child deaths:
  • Pregnant women, providers and communities should engage in a comprehensive approach to prevent preterm delivery through education on the signs and symptoms of preterm labor and the importance of babies being born full-term
  • Smoking cessation should be encouraged for pregnant women and women considering pregnancy;
  • Communities should expand and intensify their efforts to convince parents of the dangers of unsafe sleeping environments for infants;
  • Parents need to receive accurate information about vaccine safety and the risks related to their children not being vaccinated;
  • Communities, law enforcement and the Legislature need to work together to improve proper seat belt usage;
  • Protocol should be followed in child death scene investigations by law enforcement.
The goal of the Child Death Review Team is developing an understanding of the causes of deaths among children and making recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature for changes that might prevent them in the future.

The full report can be found at