Rising breastfeeding rates, the emergence of new vaccines, and the decline in smoking have all contributed to the drop in cases of infant ear infections in the United States, a new study revealed.
Almost half of the babies in the country get painful ear infections before their first birthday, making it one of the top reasons for antibiotic prescription among infants. In fact, the research team followed babies during 2008 to 2014, and found that 46 percent of them had a middle ear infection by the time they were 1 year old.
The good news is this: experts found that the cases of infant ear infections today are lower than in the 1990s and 1980s, where 60 percent of babies had suffered an ear infection before turning a year older.
Dr. Tasnee Chonmaitree, lead author of the study and an expert from the University of Texas Medical Branch, said the decline in infant ear infection rates were not surprising and that they had anticipated the result.
Vaccination Is Key
Researchers discovered that babies were less likely to experience ear infections if parents fulfilled the following: the babies were breastfed well, and received vaccines against flu and strains of pneumococcal bacteria.
One of the strains is called Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, and it can cause infection of the ears, meningitis, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections.
The study said the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which has been available only in recent years has helped in lowering the infant ear infection rate. Yearly shots that are recommended for babies who are 6 months old, are most likely helping, too.
Dr. Joseph Bernstein, an expert from New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, who was not involved in the study, said that new vaccines "could very well be one of the drivers" in the decline.
Breastfeeding And Exposure To Smoke
Although, there are other factors, too, Bernstein and Chonmaitree both said. Higher rates of breastfeeding and the decrease in babies' exposure to secondhand smoke also contribute to the lower rates of ear infection.
Why is breastfeeding important? Chonmaitree said breast milk contains antibodies that can help protect babies from infections.
Dr. Richard Rosenfeld of SUNY Downstate Medical Center agrees.
"Breastfeeding helps boost a child's immune system by providing antibodies and immune globulins that fight germs," added Rosenfeld.
Meanwhile, babies can receive the pneumococcal vaccine starting at 2 months of age. A series of booster shots will increase the effectiveness, experts said.
The new report is published in the journal Pediatrics.
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