March 2, 2006 -- An experimental vaccine might cut infections of the middle ear, researchers report in The Lancet.
Middle-ear infections send 20 million U.S. children per year to doctors, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood infections. Most cases are mild, but complications can include hearing loss.
The new vaccine doesn't wipe out all causes of ear infections. Instead, it contains proteins from two leading causes: the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae and nontypable Haemophilus influenzae.
The researchers included Roman Prymula, MD, of the Czech Republic's University of Defence.
Prymula's study included nearly 5,000 infants in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Half of the babies got the experimental vaccine when they were 3, 4, 5, and 12-15 months old. The others got a routine vaccination against a totally unrelated condition, hepatitis A.
All of the babies were followed until they were 24-27 months old.
The experimental vaccine group had fewer middle-ear infections (333 infections, compared with 499 cases in babies who didn't get the experimental vaccine). As those numbers show, the vaccine didn't eliminate all ear infections.
The vaccine deserves further study, write Prymula and colleagues. Their study was funded by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, which makes the experimental vaccine. Prymula is a consultant to GlaxoSmithKline and other drug companies, the journal notes. GlaxoSmithKline is a WebMD sponsor.
If Haemophilus influenzae sounds familiar, it may be because a routine childhood vaccine targets the "b" type of that bacterium. Nontypable Haemophilus influenzae isn't the same.
Prevnar, a vaccine approved for children less than 2 years old, guards against seven types of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Prevnar is approved to help babies avoid middle-ear infections and other illnesses caused by those bacteria. However, the experimental vaccine would cover a broader range of bacteria, according to Prymula's study.
Prevnar is made by the drug company Wyeth. Wyeth is a WebMD sponsor.