Death spike in District babies sparks concern

WASHINGTON — In little more than a week, six infants died in the District, a sudden spike that has prompted the Department of Health to begin an aggressive community intervention campaign.

The alarming surge in infant deaths occurred July 13-22, the agency announced Tuesday.

“These are preventable deaths,” says Joxel Garcia, the director.

Two of the infants — younger than 12 months old — were born prematurely. Two others likely died while sleeping in a bed with their mothers, Garcia says.

The remaining two deaths are under investigation.

The infant mortality rate in the District is already higher than the national average, but Garcia called the string of July deaths “surprising.”

That sparked the effort for more community intervention.

“We are going to be doing community intervention to increase the use of cribs instead of having the baby asleep with mom,” Garcia says. “That’s one of the number one causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome here in the District.”

He believes part of the problem comes from social media posts.

When celebrity moms take selfies with their babies in bed, it sends the wrong message, Garcia says. It may give the impression that sharing a bed is safe.

“We are going to go to the areas that have higher risk for infant mortality to educate the communities and mothers at risk,” he says.

Historically, Wards 7, 8 and 5 have had the highest infant mortality rates.

DOH has worked out a plan of action with the Department of Behavioral Health to create Post Traumatic Stress Disorder teams for the mothers, family members and communities affected by infant deaths.

The African American community, especially, sees higher rates of premature deaths and those resulting from sharing a bed, Garcia says.

General community outreach in at-risk areas is expanding.

In June, DOH had 20 partners. The number in July swelled to 40, ranging from insurance companies to faith and community based organizations.

The District Department of Health has also decided to take action in the event of future infant deaths.

Any death identified by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner or Emergency Medical Services will be sent directly to DOH.

In 2013, the District recorded 75 infant deaths.

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