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Multiple Reasons Attributed To Lower Ear Infection Rates In Babies


Here's some good news for new parents and their babies. Ear infections in infants are apparently on the decline. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the details.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Say the words, ear infection, to any parent, and you'll see the look of panic on their face. Tasnee Chonmaitree of the University of Texas knows why. She's a pediatrician and sees lots of babies with ear infections.

TASNEE CHONMAITREE: They are very irritable, and they have a fever, and they look pathetic, and they keep the parents up at a night. And when they have to be taken to see the doctor, the parents will have to miss work.

STEIN: So Chonmaitree and her colleagues decided to take a look at what's happening with ear infections. They followed more than 300 newborns through their first year of life and found almost half got an ear infection by their first birthdays. That may sound like a lot, but it's actually a big drop since the 1980s and '90s. For example, the percentage of babies getting ear infections within the first three months is down by almost two-thirds.

CHONMAITREE: It is good news for parents.

STEIN: So why is this happening? Well, Chonmaitree says one big reason is vaccines. The one for the flu that babies can not get, it also helps prevent ear infections. Ditto for what's become another routine childhood vaccination.

CHONMAITREE: The vaccine that prevents so-called pneumococcal infections, which can, you know, cause more serious infection and also ear infection.

STEIN: But that's not all. More women are breast-feeding.

CHONMAITREE: Breast feeding really plays a big role in protecting the infant from having both the common cold and from ear infection. Basically, the mother passes immunity to the infant through breast milk.

STEIN: And there may be one more big factor - cigarette smoking by parents and other adults is down, so fewer kids are being exposed to secondhand smoke. Rob Stein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.