GAINESVILLE---Serious complications from childhood ear infections are on the rise, primarily because the bacterium most often responsible for the infection is growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics, University of Florida researchers report.
While physicians nationwide have recognized ear infections are becoming more difficult to treat, a UF study is among the first to provide concrete evidence that complications from ear infections are becoming more common, said UF otolaryngologist Dr. Patrick J. Antonelli, who presented his findings this week at the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery meeting in San Antonio.
Researchers reviewed the hospital records of all patients admitted to Shands hospital at UF during the past 10 years with complications of ear infections. In that time, 34 patients were admitted for mastoiditis, a serious ear complication of middle ear infections that involves the spread of the infections into the middle ear bone. Although the number is not large in itself, Antonelli says it is significant because this type of ailment has been almost nonexistent since the widespread introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s.
"It has been extremely rare in the last 20 to 30 years to have mastoiditis develop from acute ear infections. With the rising incidence of certain penicillin-resistant bacteria, this has the potential of growing into a serious problem. This has only recently become widespread with the most important type of bacteria that causes acute ear infections, so we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg," said Antonelli, an associate professor of otolaryngology at UF's College of Medicine.
Researchers tested the bacterium responsible for a majority of childhood ear infections and the rising rate of mastoiditis, streptococcus pneumoniae, for its susceptibility to antibiotics and found it was penicillin-resistant in all but one of eight tested samples.