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Brenner Children’s Hospital Pediatrician Says Vaccine Can Help Reduce Frequent Ear Infections in Children

WINSTON-SALEM –A vaccine has been shown to help reduce the number of infants and toddlers developing frequent ear infections, according to new research from Katherine A. Poehling, M.D., a pediatrician at Brenner Children’s Hospital, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Results from her study were published in the April issue of Pediatrics.

“This is exciting news for parents whose children suffer from frequent and painful ear infections,” she said.

Poehling and a team of researchers followed about 27,000 children in New York and 150,000 children in Tennessee who were born between 1998 and 2002. Her goal was to determine the how the introduction of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) into the vaccination schedule in mid-2000 affected the proportion of children developing frequent ear infections. The vaccine was approved to help protect children from invasive pneumococcal diseases such meningitis.

Poehling found that, during the time that vaccine coverage increased, the number of vaccinated children who developed frequent ear infections and/or received ear tubes declined by 16 percent in Tennessee and 25 percent in New York.

“This vaccine has benefited both children and adults since being introduced into the vaccination schedule,” Poehling said. “We have seen declines in the incidence of serious infections such as pneumococcal meningitis in both children and adults, as well as the number of children developing frequent ear infections.”

The PCV7 vaccine was licensed by the FDA in 2000. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended the vaccine be part of the routine vaccination schedule the same year. Children receive four doses of the vaccine at age: two months, four months, six months and again at about 12 to 15 months, Poehling said.

Ear infections are one of the most common infections in children. Before the vaccine was introduced into the vaccination schedule, one-third of ear infections were caused by the pneumococcal bacteria.

“While most children have at least one ear infection by their second birthday, 25 to 30 percent of children will develop frequent ear infections or about three or four each year,” Poehling said.

Many of these children – about one of every 15 to 25 children -- will end up with ear tubes by the age of two, she said.

“Although these results are very exciting, we need to carefully monitor the trends in ear infections because pnuemococcal strains not included in the vaccine may increase and potentially diminish these gains,” she said.

The PCV7 vaccine only protects against seven virulent strains of pneumococcal bacteria from 90 known strains.

Poehling conducted the research during her tenure at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. Co-researchers included: Peter G. Szilagyi, M.D. and Richard D. Barth, from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York; J.Pekka Nuorti, M.D and Stacey W. Martin, M.S. from the CDC; Carlos G. Grijalva, M.D. M.P.H., Bonnie LaFleur, Ph.D. M.P.H., Ed Mitchel, M.S. and Marie R. Griffin, M.D. M.P.H. from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The research was funded by the CDC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Media Contact: Rae Bush (336) 716-6878, rbush@wfubmc.edu; Shannon Koontz (336) 716-2415, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu; or Karen Richardson (336) 716-4453, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu.

About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Brenner Children’s Hospital. It is licensed to operate 1,187 acute care, rehabilitation, psychiatry and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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