Study confirms ‘marked increase’ in ‘shaken baby syndrome’ during pandemic

  • These are data from a study published in JAMA Network carried out in Paris during the covid-19 pandemic period compared to the pre-pandemic period

  • A shake of just a few seconds can blind the baby, cause irreversible neurological sequelae or even death

  • Among the causes, psychosocial anguish or changes in lifestyle that occurred during the pandemic are pointed out.

We invite you to do a memory exercise. March 2020, covid-19 begins and the world comes to a standstill. The global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has arrived and absolute confinement begins. While families are cooped up at home, hospitals are not enough and friends, acquaintances and relatives die without a solution nearby and nerves surface.

If, in addition, the confinement was with young children who have stopped attending daycare or school, things get complicated. Taking care of children while teleworking has been a very difficult mission for many fathers and mothers. Something urgent to do at work, connected to the Internet, and the little one throws a tantrum because his brother has taken a toy from him, for example. The level of parental stress has at times been unbearable.

“Now I look back and I’m thankful that I held back and not having “shaken them vigorously” to make them stop crying”, A father tells that during the pandemic his children were 1 and 4 years old. “Sometimes I have been afraid of not controlling myself, the anxiety and tension that this produced in me has made the situation reach the limit many times.”

‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’

now a new study published in JAMA Network confirm that it has been found a marked increase in the incidence and severity of abusive head trauma, also known as ‘shaken baby syndrome’ for infant abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic period in the Paris metropolitan area compared to the pre-pandemic period.

“While containment and mitigation measures were necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, they may have had unintended consequences for the health of children, as an increase in abusive head injuries. These results suggest the need for clinical awareness and preventive actions.”

According to the researchers, abusive head trauma (AHT) is the most common cause of traumatic death in infants in high-income countries. When the child does not die are associated with severe long-term morbidity, such as neurodevelopmental impairment (microcephaly, epilepsy, and visual impairments, language disorders, intellectual disability, and behavioral abnormalities leading to severe lifelong disabilities.

Psychosocial distress or lifestyle changes

Among the causes explained by the study, it indicates that its prevalence could have been modified by the covid-19 pandemic and the containment and mitigation measures to reduce the spread of the disease, psychosocial distress (financial loss and unemployment, frustration intolerance, adult or partner psychiatric disorders), lifestyle changes (remote work from home in small group housing, school and daycare closures, full national lockdowns and curfews).

The Paris metropolitan area is of particular interest to study the association between the covid-19 pandemic and the incidence of hypertension. In fact, it is a region densely populated where two-thirds of the population lives in small collective dwellings, and faced strong waves of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to extended lockdowns and curfews, remote work obligations, and daycare closures.

According to the study, among 99 infants with a confirmed diagnosis of ‘shaking syndrome’ included in the study, the median age was four months (between 3 and 6 months). Among the included infants, 87% (86 of 99 participants) had bridging vein thrombosis, 77% multiple thrombosis (66 of 86 participants), 75% had retinal hemorrhages (74 of 99 participants), 32% ( 23 of 72 participants) had fractures, and 20% (20 of 99 participants) had skin lesions.

Just a few seconds of shaking can blind you.

A few months ago, the Vall d’Hebrón Hospital in Barcelona indicated that it had detected since the beginning of the year five cases of babies with abusive head trauma, being a trauma caused by shaking the newborn. The figure registered in just the first six months of 2022 already represents four more cases than in all of 2021.

The hospital has launched a prevention program to warn parents and caregivers of children of the risks and consequences that shaking a baby can have. Just a few seconds of shaking can blind you, cause irreversible neurological damage, or even death. The most common symptoms of abusive head trauma are cerebral and retinal hemorrhage, bone fractures, such as rib injuries, and neurological sequelae.


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