April 2, 2007 -- Children's frequent ear infections may be rarer than in the past, thanks to vaccination against pneumonia and related diseases.
That's according to a new study published in Pediatrics.
The study focuses on the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which targets pneumococcal infections that can cause serious pneumococcal diseases including pneumonia and meningitis.
The vaccine may also prevent ear infections caused by a certain type of pneumococcal bacteria. But the vaccine doesn't guard against other causes of ear infections.
The CDC recommends that all children get the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in four doses before their second birthday. The CDC also recommends the vaccine for unvaccinated kids 2-5 years old.
Those recommendations, in place since in the middle of 2000, may have curbed frequent ear infections in children, the new study shows.
Frequent Ear Infections Drop
The new study is based on data from Tennessee's health care program for low-income children and from three commercial managed care companies in upstate New York.
Children with frequent ear infections had at least three ear infections within six months or at least four ear infections within a year.
The study shows that frequent ear infections were less common in kids born after the CDC's recommendation than in children born earlier.
For instance, 33% of Tennessee kids born in 1998 or 1999 had frequent ear infections by the time they were 5 years old. That percentage dropped to 29% for kids born in 2000 or 2001.
In New York, frequent ear infections were 28% rarer in children born in 2000 or 2001 than in those born in 1998 or 1999.
Fewer Kids Getting Ear Tubes
The study also shows that kids born after the CDC's vaccine recommendation were less likely to get ear tubes surgically inserted in their ears to help prevent recurrent ear infections than children born earlier.
Ear tube insertions were 16% rarer in Tennessee and 23% rarer in New York for kids born in 2000 or 2001 than in those born in 1998 or 1999.
The decline in frequent ear infections and ear tube insertions eased somewhat for Tennessee children born in 2001 or 2002.
The reason for that trend isn't clear, but it should be monitored, note the researchers.
They included Katherine Poehling, MD, MPH. She worked on the study while at Vanderbilt University's pediatrics department and is now with Wake Forest University's pediatrics department.