Ear infections, known in the medical community as Otitis media, remain the most treated ailment by pediatric doctor visits, which children being prescribed antibiotics more often for the treatment of ear infections than any other infection type. Because overuse of antibiotics have led to the rise of difficult-to-treat “superbugs” and a malaise in the overall effectiveness of antibiotic treatments, however, researchers and health practitioners alike have looked toward vaccination as a possible end-run around having to use antibiotics, instead seeking to curtail the development of ear infections through immunization. According to new research published by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, these new vaccine-related interventions are in fact reducing the number of ear infections nationwide.
The findings are part of an 11-year study recently published online in the November 25th edition of JAMA Pediatrics, which highlighted the trends in ear infections treated by healthcare professionals in the United States in relation to the first ten years that the first pneumococcal conjugate vaccine was introduced in the United States. Lead investigator and UTMB professor of pediatrics in the division of pediatric infectious diseases, Dr. Tasnee Chonmaitree, conducted the study by way of crunching health insurance data from ” . . . a nationwide managed health care plan of 7.82 million children under 6 visiting a health care provider for an ear infection or a complication or surgical intervention related to ear infection,” between 2001 and 2011, according to a recent article on Science Daily.
The study, which is the first of its kind, revealed that there was a palpable downward trend in pediatric doctor visits for ear infections from 2004 to 2011, and a significant drop in children younger than 2 years who were treated for Otitis media, which coincides with the introduction of the 13-valent vaccine, or PCV-13, in 2010.
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During the previous decade, considerable medical progress had been made in otitis media prevention. Among the major interventions are conjugate vaccines against Streptococcus pneumoniae, a major pathogen of acute otitis media. In the U.S., 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, PCV-7, was licensed in 2000, and routine PCV-7 vaccination has been associated with a significant reduction in ear infections, as well as a decrease in tube insertion related to recurrent and chronic ear infections. Dr. Chonmaitree noted that, “Medical interventions in the past decade, especially with the introduction of new vaccines, have really reduced the burden of this common childhood disease” — one that affects more than eighty percent of children, who at one point will contract at least one ear infection, and forty percent of which will have three or more episodes at some point in their childhood.
Science Daily goes on to note that, “in March 2010, the PCV-13 was licensed for use among U.S. children 6 weeks to 6 years. It succeeded PCV-7 and expanded coverage by offering protection against six additional strains of the bacteria. Today, roughly 90 percent of children under 2 receive the PCV-13 vaccine.” It appears that the advent of vaccinations such as PCV-13 are part of a wider initiative to avoid the overuse of antibiotics, as the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their clinical practice guidelines earlier this year to allow an observation option for ear infections, in order to withhold initial antibiotic treatment in children older than two who do not have a serious case, and in younger children with an infection in only one ear.
Dr. Chonmaitree, who is a member of the committee that made the new AAP recommendations, notes that the effort to reduce reliance on antibiotics is crucial, considering the hidden yet substantial impact of ear infections: “Otitis media has a high socioeconomic impact worldwide,” she said, adding, “In the United States, an estimated $4 billion is spent every year on otitis media-related health care.”
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