Chronic Ear Infections Caused by Undetected Bacteria

For many of us, ear infections are a part of childhood not fondly remembered. Unfortunately, the number of children that suffer from chronic ear infections is substantial—and the reason for this, as researchers have discovered, is that some bacteria go unnoticed. One kind in particular can lead not only to ear infections, but also to other respiratory issues that may become chronic.

The strain, known as NTHI, can be found around the mucus membranes of almost 50% of children. However, under the right conditions, the bacteria can begin to thrive and grow. It has been known to cause a number of infections in the ear, sinuses and lungs, therefore making chronic conditions likely to occur. The problem with NTHI is that is has become difficult to treat: While preferred treatments for ear infections, for example, may clear up the problem, it may not completely rid the middle ear of infection. This allows for another flare-up, which may then lead to another ear infection. Medicine-resistant strains such as this have been the focus of some recent studies.

While looking into the causes of some of these chronic respiratory infections, scientists were able to observe how the bacteria reacted to the body’s own defense mechanism, our immune system. It was noted that certain processes of the immune system actually help NTHI become stronger and maintain its hold on its host. By using the immune system against itself, the strain is now not only able to feed, but also goes through a sort of transformation. By structurally changing or mutating, the strain, in effect, camouflages itself. When this happens, it is no longer targeted by the immune system; it is now overlooked.

Resistant strains are nothing new to the medical community, but impetus is being put on finding ways to prevent this from happening. More study is needed to determine the best way to treat infections caused by bacteria such as NTHI, and researchers have some avenues they feel may lead to effective treatment.