​Should Flu Shots Be Used To Reduce Inner Ear Infections In Toddlers? ​

Influenza vaccine reduces acute otitis media infections and antibiotics

child holding head, ear infection

An estimated 80% of children experience Acute otitis media, a common pediatric infection, by the time they reach 3 years of age.

Acute otitis media (AOM) occurs when the area behind the eardrum, called the middle ear, becomes inflamed and infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

AOM is often preceded by a viral infection, such as influenza.

Healthcare providers often treat this painful middle ear infections with antibiotics and the flu shot.

New research investigated whether influenza vaccines used to help prevent the viral infection might reduce the occurrence of AOM in infants and children.

But the debate between treatment cost and the clinical efficacy has been debated.

Pediatric AOM accounts for approximately $2.88 billion in added healthcare expense annually, which is $314 per child per year, reports the CDC.

But a flu shot costs less than 10 percent of that treatment.

A new study published in Cochrane reviewed the effect of influenza vaccines in preventing acute otitis media in infants and children.

These researchers found the flu shot produced a 4% reduction in AOM, and about an 11% reduction in the number of antibiotic prescriptions.

This study’s conclusion remains uncertain whether the influenza vaccine reduced visits or admissions to healthcare facilities. And the data was insufficient to show if the flu shot benefit was balanced against side effects from the vaccine.

But, this research’s conclusion, which included data from 11 clinical trials involving 17,123 children, that when coupled with other vaccine safety concerns, using the influenza vaccine to reduce AOM is not a justified therapy.

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Additionally, this study said the observed reduction in the use of antibiotics needs to be considered in light of current recommended practices aimed at avoiding antibiotic overuse.

Although we observed a reduction in antibiotic usage, this impact is uncertain because the current practice is to avoid overuse of antibiotics. and additional research is needed.

Middle ear infections are called Otitis Media, and there are two types of middle ear infections, according to the CDC.

  • Otitis Media with Effusion (OME) occurs when fluid builds up in the middle ear without pain, pus, fever, or other signs and symptoms of infection. OME usually goes away on its own and does not benefit from taking antibiotics.
  • Acute Otitis Media (AOM) occurs when fluid builds up in the middle ear and is often caused by bacteria, but can also be caused by viruses. AOM is often caused by bacteria, and Streptococcus pneumoniae is a common bacterial cause of AOM.

AOM may not need antibiotics in many cases because the body’s immune system can fight off the infection without help from antibiotics, but sometimes antibiotics are needed.

Changing prescribing behaviors can be difficult, but there are proven, evidence-based methods to optimize antibiotic therapy for individuals, while minimizing harm to the patient and reducing antibiotic resistance in the community, says the CDC.

Most pharmacies in the USA offer several FDA approved flu vaccines.

The flu shot cost varies depending on your insurance and which state you live. The CDC Vaccine Price List provides the private sector vaccine prices for general information.

Flu vaccine discounts can be found here.

Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects, says the CDC. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of vaccines to the FDA or CDC.

These researchers did not disclose any conflicts of interest:  Norhayati MN, Ho JJ, Azman MY.