A new super bug that causes acute ear infections in children has emerged that is immune to all antibiotics currently approved for children.
The strain of highly drug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae requires aggressive therapy, either surgery or an antibiotic not approved for children that has caused joint damage in young animals.
So far, the bug appears to be occurring in only a very small proportion of children. But there is concern the multi-drug resistant organism could spread and cause other, more serious problems, including pneumonia, blood stream infections or meningitis.
One girl in Rochester was left with permanent hearing loss in both ears.
If an ear infection doesn’t improve after two back-to-back courses of antibiotics, “a light bulb should go off that maybe it’s a super bug and maybe we need to have our child get an ear tap (where fluid is drained from the middle ear) and the sample sent to evaluate whether it’s a super bug requiring special treatment,” Pichichero says.
Most ear infections start with a cold or other viral infection that triggers swelling on the mucus membranes lining the middle ear, as well as the Eustachian tube, the short tube that drains fluid from the ear to the back of the throat. Bacteria that are normally present in nose multiply and migrate to the middle ear.
About half are caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, the leading cause of meningitis and blood stream infections in children. The approval in 2000 of Prevnar, a vaccine that protects against seven strains of the bacteria, has overall slashed ear infections by about 25 per cent.
Tests of a new pneumococcal vaccine that includes the new super bug strain are underway in the U.S.
The issue here is that other strains have begun to flourish with overuse of antibiotics. The new super germ, a strain called 19A, has adapted and learned how to resist all 18 approved antibiotics for childhood ear infections.
Tips to help prevent ear infections:
- second-hand smoke can weaken a person’s immune system, so keep your child away from cigarette smoke as much as possible.
- breastfeeding or bottle feed your baby propped up, this prevents fluid from accumulating around the ear area.
- washing your hands frequently, as well as your toddler’s toys, can help reduce the number of germs he will come into contact with thereby minimizing the chances of an ear infection.
- avoiding getting water in their ears. Encourage them to use ear plugs in the pool and bath.
- eliminate dust and pet dander, which are possible allergens.