June 20, 2005

Earache-Prone Kids Tend to Carry More Bacteria

NEW YORK -- Children who suffer frequent ear infections -- otitis media -- often harbor high numbers of the bacteria that cause the infections, and a low number of organisms that inhibit growth of the disease-causing bugs, a small study indicates.

There appears to be no relationship between bacterial colonization in children and whether their parents smoke or not.

Exposure to cigarette smoke is associated with carriage of potentially disease-causing bacteria in adults and children, Drs. Itzhak Brook and Alan E. Gober note in their report in the Archives of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery. However, the rate of colonization with organisms with interfering capabilities -- believed to play a role in preventing upper respiratory tract infection -- is unknown.

The researchers, both from the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, obtained nose and throat cultures from 40 children who had experienced at least six episodes of acute otitis media in the previous 2 years. Cultures were also obtained from the parents, half of whom were smokers.

The team discovered high rates of carriage of bacteria known to cause ear infections, in smoking parents and children from both groups.

Specifically, in the smoking group, 14 potential disease-causing bacteria were isolated from 12 parents, and 17 potential pathogens from 15 of their children. The corresponding rates in the nonsmoking group were 3 potential pathogens from 3 parents and 16 from 14 of their children.

The authors tested the inhibitory activity of normal isolates against the four species of disease-causing bacteria. They observed so-called "bacterial interference" in 58 instances by 21 normal flora isolates from smoking parents, and in 55 instances by 18 isolates from their children.

In the nonsmoking group, bacterial interference was noted in 129 instances by 44 isolates from parents and in 55 instances by 20 isolates from the children.

Drs. Brook and Gober conclude that otitis-media-prone children exhibit "a high recovery rate of potential pathogens and a low number of interfering organisms."

They comment that "therapeutic colonization" of the nose and throat of parents with harmless interfering organisms might be worth looking into, as way of reducing the number of disease-causing bacteria and thereby the number of ear infections in their children.

SOURCE: Archives of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery, June 2005.