New study to reduce ear disease

NORTHERN TERRITORY: A new study hopes to pave the way for a big reduction in the number of Aboriginal children with ear disease.

The study of 400 babies from remote communities in the Northern Territory will evaluate two different vaccines used to help prevent otitis media, a major cause of hearing loss in parts of Australia.

Otitis media, also known as runny nose, is caused when bacteria get into the middle ear and cause an infection, like a boil, which can burst the ear drum.

Head of Menzies Ear Health Research Program, Associate Professor Amanda Leach said almost all babies in remote communities in Australia develop the disease at some point.

“It is unbelievable how highly prevalent this is,” said Dr Leach, who is undertaking the study.

“If we can stop perforations in that first year of life, by giving them enough antibodies in their first year of life, that would be a fantastic start,” Dr Leach said.

“That is the goal.”

The research will work out whether it is best to give one vaccine or both, and what age is the best time to administer them to children.

“Not only do so many children suffer, but the hearing loss causes impacts on speech, language, behaviour problems, education and even now there is evidence about depression,” she said.

Dr Leach said the World Health Organisation considers an incidence above four per cent of otitis media to be a major emergency.

Among Aboriginal children living in remote communities in the Northern Territory the incidence is about 20 per cent, about 200 times more prevalent than for other Australians.

Across the country, about 45 per cent of all Aboriginal children suffer from otitis media in their first year.

Deputy Mayor of the Tiwi Islands Shire Council Barry Puruntatameri said treatment of otitis media is important for the future of children in his shire.

“We hope the trial will help prevent the next generations from being affected by the disease,” Mr Puruntatameri said in a statement.

The prevalence of otitis media in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory is thought to be the highest in the world.

“We are well above what is being found elsewhere, like Africa for instance, or elsewhere,” Dr Leach said.


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