Middle ear infections in children halved during pandemic

Rates of middle ear infection in children fell dramatically during the pandemic, according to a new study.

The research co-authored by BRC Theme Lead for Deafness and Hearing Problems Prof Anne Schilder, looking at infection rates in the Netherlands during the pandemic, found that infections fell by more than 50% while measures to combat the virus were in place.

Researchers said the UK is likely to have had similar reductions and that the study highlights the importance of infection control measures in reducing ear infection rates.

Otitis media (OM) is generally preceded by a viral upper respiratory tract infection. OM consists of a spectrum of diseases including acute otitis media (AOM) and otitis media with effusion (OME) which involves fluid build-up in the ear.

Symptoms involve fever and ear pain, with around 15-20% of children with AOM presenting with ear discharge due to a spontaneous tear or perforation of the eardrum. OM is one of the commonest conditions during early childhood and a prime reason for antibiotic prescriptions.

The observational study during the pandemic involving data from more than 65,000 in the Netherlands found that GP consultations for AOM, OME and ear discharge declined by 63%, 57% and 54% respectively during the pandemic. The number of antibiotic prescriptions fell accordingly.

The case mix presenting to primary care did not considerably change, suggesting a true decline in infection rates rather than fewer people approaching the health service.

Prof Schilder said: “The infection control measures we saw during the pandemic including social distancing and stay at home orders are more extensive than we would expect during ‘normal’ times. However, the reduction in infections we saw suggest that continuing measures such as frequent handwashing may have a lasting impact on OM incidence beyond the pandemic.

“Though it is also important to say that social interaction is incredibly important for children and their development, so infection control measures should take account of this.”

Read the paper in full.

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