Our evidence, both direct and circumstantial, indicates that manual whiplash shaking of infants is a common primary type of trauma in the socalled battered infant syndrome. It appears to be the major cause in these infants who suffer from subdural hematomas and intraocular bleedings. The label "battered infant" is a misnomer in many cases which may interfere with early diagnosis and proper preventive treatment.
The essential elements in the infantile whiplash shaking syndrome present an extraordinary diagnostic contradiction. They include intracranial and intraocular hemorrhages, in the absence of signs of external trauma to the head or fractures of the calvaria, and are associated with traction lesions of the periosteums of the long bones in the absence of fractures and traumatic changes in the overlying skin of the extremities. Usually there is no history of trauma of any kind.
Habitual, prolonged, casual whiplash shakings may produce an insidious progressive clinical picture, the latent whiplash shaken infant syndrome, which is often inapparent to both parents and physicians. It usually first becomes evident at school age when minor idiopathic cerebral motor defects are first detected along with mild idiopathic mental retardation. Permanent impairments of vision and hearing may also be identified at this time for the first time when the children are 5 to 6 years of age. The actual number of such cases is incalculable from current evidence but it appears to be substantial.
This concept of the whiplash shaken infant syndrome warrants careful diagnostic consideration in all infants with unexplained convulsions, hyperirritability, bulging fontanel, paralyses, and forceful vomiting singly or in combination. The routine careful examination of the ocular fundi of all infants should provide a superior screening method for early and massive detection of pathogenic whiplash shakings along with radiographic examination of the long bones for confirmation in appropriate cases.
Current evidence, though manifestly incomplete and largely circumstantial, warrants a nationwide educational campaign on the potential pathogenicity of habitual, manual, casual whiplash shaking of infants, and on all other habits, practices and procedures in which the heads of infants are habitually jerked and jolted (whiplashed).
The proposed nationwide educational campaign against the shaking, slapping, jerking, and jolting of infants' heads is summarized in the following stanza:
Guard well your baby's precious head,
Shake, jerk and slap it never,
Lest you bruise his brain and twist his mind,
Or whiplash him dead, forever.
- Received April 13, 1973.
- Accepted May 7, 1974.
- Copyright © 1974 by the American Academy of Pediatrics