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Ear Infections Develop in 1 out of 5 Kids with Respiratory Viruses

Antibiotics may be unnecessary in children with mild otitis media, study suggests

More than 20 percent of young children with colds or other respiratory viral infections will develop middle ear infections of varying severity—including some mild infections that don't require antibiotics, according to a study in the February issue of  The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.  The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

The study shows the "full spectrum" of acute otitis media (AOM) in infants and toddlers with respiratory viruses—sometimes including mild infection in one ear but severe infection in the other.  The lead author was Dr. Stella U. Kalu of University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Unique Study Provides Detailed info on AOM Rates and Findings
The researchers analyzed cases of AOM developing after upper respiratory viral infections—such as a cold or "flu"—in 294 children, aged six months to three years.  The study was unique because the children were enrolled before they got sick—most studies are limited to children who have already been diagnosed with AOM.  This prospective research design provides a unique illustration of the natural history of AOM in the setting of viral upper respiratory infections.

Overall, 22 percent of the children developed AOM during the first week of a respiratory infection.  The diagnosis of AOM was based on the presence of symptoms (such as fever and earache) plus inflammation of the eardrum and fluid in the middle ear (seen by the doctor using an otoscope).  Another seven percent of children had inflammation of the eardrum without fluid in the middle ear.

The eardrum inflammation was rated mild in eight percent of children with AOM, moderate in 59 percent, and severe in 35 percent.  One hundred twenty-six children had AOM in both ears—in 54 percent of these cases, the severity of inflammation was different between ears.

The children were generally treated without antibiotics, if possible. Of 28 children with mild AOM, 24 got better without antibiotics.  Four got worse, and three eventually required antibiotics.

Acute otitis media is one of the most common childhood diseases and a major reason for antibiotic prescriptions.  Most cases of AOM are preceded by a cold or other respiratory viral infection.  Doctors may see AOM at different stages of the disease; their treatment recommendations may vary according to the signs and symptoms they see at that time.

The new study provides uniquely detailed information, including the otoscopy findings, on AOM occurring in young children with respiratory viral infections.  The results suggest that about 22 percent of children with a cold or other respiratory infections will develop AOM.  These ear infections can range from mild to severe, and may differ from one ear to the other.

"Management of AOM likely depends on stages of the infection," Dr. Kalu and colleagues write.  Their experience suggests that many children with mild AOM can be managed without antibiotics.  They believe their results may be useful in developing some type of clinical score to help in differentiating children who require antibiotics from those who do not.   The researchers conclude, "A clinical scoring system that can help identify children who will benefit from treatment will lead to reduction in antibiotic use of AOM."

About The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal
The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal® is a peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary journal directed to physicians and other health care professionals who manage infectious diseases of childhood.  The journal delivers the latest insights on all aspects of infectious disease in children, from state-of-art diagnostic techniques to the most effective drug therapies and other essential treatment protocols.  The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal is official journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society and the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases.

About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is a leading international publisher for healthcare professionals and students with nearly 300 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines publishing under the LWW brand, as well as content-based sites and online corporate and customer services. 
LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information and business intelligence for students, professionals and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health and pharmacy. Major brands include traditional publishers of medical and drug reference tools, journals, and textbooks, 
such as  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins and Facts & Comparisons®; and electronic information providers, such as Ovid®, UpToDate®,  Medi-Span® and ProVation® Medical.