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Otitis media, more commonly known as an ear infection, is the most frequently diagnosed illness in children less than 15 years of age in the United States and is the primary cause for emergency room visits. More than 80 percent of children will experience at least one ear infection before their third birthday. Much research has been dedicated to preventing this common childhood disease at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
A new study could introduce a pain-free vaccination strategy that works against ear infections developed by Lauren Bakaletz, PhD, director of the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in collaboration with John Clements, PhD, at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.
Ear infections are typically treated through antibiotics or, if they occur often enough, through surgery. “The emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms and the invasive nature of the surgical procedure raise the need to develop different ways to treat or, preferably, prevent ear infections,” said Bakaletz, who is also a faculty member at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
The data from researchers at Nationwide Children’s is the first to show immunization as an effective way to prevent ear infections. The vaccine was recently tested by placing a droplet of formula on the outer ears of chinchillas and then rubbed into the skin. Bakaletz said that it was extremely effective, and that her research team is excited about the ability to immunize without needles.
The vaccine works by activating cells which can be found just under the surface of the skin. When the liquid touches the skin the cells deliver the vaccine to the lymphoid organs where it can generate an immune response rapidly reducing or eliminating NTHI, one of the bacteria commonly responsible for ear infections, from the nose and ears.
“These studies lay the foundation for an effective, yet simple, inexpensive and potentially transformative way to deliver vaccines,” said Bakaletz. “It’s our hope the method of applying the vaccine to the skin will allow us to distribute it to some of the poorest children in the world.”
In addition to protecting against ear infections, this research could have important implications for the prevention of other diseases of the respiratory tract caused by NTHI.