At a Glance

PR teams raise cot death research awareness

Tell me more.

Scientists at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital (GOSH) have uncovered new evidence about sudden unexplained death in infants (SUDI) - commonly known as cot death.

They believe that it may now be linked to bacteria present in babies and young children. In post-mortems, bugs including staphylococcus aureus and E.coli were found in half the children whose deaths were unexplained.

So were these Great Ormond Street patients?

No, but the hospital is also a major research centre of childhood illness and its specialist paediatric pathology service investigated more than 500 sudden infant deaths. The findings were published in medical journal The Lancet last Friday.

Who handled PR?

Lancet press officer Tony Kirby and GOSH comms director Stephen Cox took the lead. The Lancet issued an embargoed release, based on the technical research paper.

The GOSH team - which did not know until a few days beforehand that the paper would be out in last week's issue - had to wait for the magazine to do its stuff.

How did GOSH help then?

It then wrote its own press release with an emphasis on making the information accessible and spoke to key journalists to push the story and to give author contacts.

Cox and his two PROs also contacted the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths charity, who put bereaved parents up for interview.

What was coverage like?

Excellent. Although the report's main author was abroad, two other scientists involved in the research were interviewed on news bulletins and most national newspapers carried the story. Overseas media picked up the research as well and The Lancet also posted online a podcast interview with the report author.

Is this the answer to preventing SUDI?

No. In addition to communicating the research data, the comms teams have also been clear in emphasising that this is a new theory rather than a solution to the problem.

The research did show a link between bacteria and SUDI but how death is actually caused remains unknown.

Parents still have to follow the same advice to reduce risk as before: don't smoke, lie babies on their back and so on.

Further information www.thelancet.com www.gosh.org.

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