Professor Ed Mitchell
SUDI Academic Expert
Auckland University

Ed Mitchell qualified at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London and has worked in the UK, Zambia and New Zealand.

He was the Cure Kids Professor of Child Health Research at the University of Auckland from 2001 to 2015 and is now a Professorial Research Fellow. He has published over 400 original papers, particularly on the epidemiology of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). He was awarded a Doctor of Science for his work on “The Epidemiology and Prevention of SIDS” by the University of London. He has received several awards for his landmark studies of SIDS and in 2009 was made a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Professor Ed Mitchell answers questions from the community.

Has the ‘toxic gas theory’ been proven or disproved?

This interesting theory goes back to the 1980s. It postulated that a specific fungus grew on the plastic covering of damp cot mattress. The fungus would metabolise the fire retardants in the plastic covering and would release nerves gases which could kill the baby. Proponents of the theory recommended covering the mattress with a polythene covering to stop the gases reaching the baby. To me it never seemed a likely explanation, as 50+% of deaths occurred in the parental bed, which was unlikely to be wet and contaminated with the fungus unlike the cot. The theory stimulated considerable research which was not able to replicate the gases in anything closely resembling a cot environment. In my opinion the theory was clearly wrong when it was found that the postulated nerve gases wasn’t toxic!

  • damp mattress
  • plastic covering