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Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Find Flu Vaccine Ineffective Against Ear Infections in Infants and Toddlers

Researchers also find the vaccine is effective in preventing flu in children 6 to 24 months old

Vaccination against influenza did not result in substantial prevention of middle ear infections (acute otitis media) in children 6 to 24 months old, researchers at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh have found.

In a study of 786 children up to 2 years old, Children’s researchers found the flu vaccine shot was no more effective than placebo in preventing middle ear infections. These findings are somewhat contrary to previous studies which have shown the flu vaccine was responsible for a one-third reduction of middle ear infections in children.

Ear infections, a common complication of the flu and other respiratory viruses in young children, are responsible for about 25 million visits to pediatricians nationwide each year, according to lead investigator Alejandro Hoberman, MD, chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children’s. About 75 percent of children will have at least one ear infection by the time they are 3 years old.

“The age of the children we studied was a key factor,” Dr. Hoberman said. “It is only recently that pediatricians have been vaccinating against the flu in healthy children younger than 2, the age range in which kids are most prone to ear infections. It was important for us to know if those vaccinations would help reduce the overall rate of ear infections in this young population.”

Results of the study appear in the Sept. 24, 2003, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The mean age of kids in the Children’s study was 14 months, compared with 20 to 43 months for three previous studies conducted in children – many of them with a history of recurrent ear infections – which showed the flu vaccine reduced the number of ear infections.

A second important finding by Children’s researchers is that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of developing flu illness by 66 percent in children evaluated during the first year of the study, when influenza was prevalent in the community. This is the largest ever study to measure the effectiveness of the flu vaccine shot in children 6 to 24 months old.

In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics began encouraging the practice of vaccinating healthy children 6 to 24 months old against the flu. It is recommended that other children be vaccinated if they have certain chronic medical conditions. About 10 to 20 percent of all U.S. residents get the flu every year, according to the CDC.

Contacts:
Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-5016, Marc.Lukasiak@chp.edu
Melanie Tush Finnigan, 412-692-5016,Melanie.Finnigan@chp.edu

Last Update
February 20, 2008
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Last Update
February 20, 2008
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