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Study to determine whether ear infections can be prevented by a person’s own bacterium

A study by the University of Oulu will examine whether normal beneficial bacteria of the nasopharynx can prevent ear infections in children. Preventing ear infections would significantly reduce the need for antibiotic treatment of children.

Almost all children will suffer from an ear infection, and ear infection is the main cause of antibiotic treatment of children.

Traditional lactic acid bacteria, such as lactobacilli, are naturally intestinal and not nasopharyngeal bacteria. Therefore, they have not been helpful in preventing ear infection. The bacteria causing ear infection migrate to the child’s middle ear to cause the infection when the bacterial balance is disturbed due to a flu.

The new research idea is based on the knowledge that the beneficial bacterium of the pharynx itself competes with pathogenic bacteria in the pharynx and thus prevents the formation of ear infection and the movement of bacteria to the middle ear. The beneficial bacterium of normal nasopharyngeal bacteria, the probiotic Streptococcus salivarius and its strain K12, was isolated from the pharynx of a healthy child in New Zealand. It has been used extensively in the past to promote oral health and has been shown to be safe for children and adults. The bacterium produces natural antibiotic-like defensive proteins against harmful bacteria.

The Salli study of Oulu University Hospital’s children and youth clinic and the University of Oulu investigates whether the regular use of the beneficial bacterium Streptococcus salivarius K12 can reduce the number of ear infections in children aged 1 to 6 years.

During the autumn and winter, 900 children will be sought for the study from the City of Oulu’s day-care centres. Information about the study is being distributed at maternity and child health clinics and paediatricians’ offices. Children who are not in day care can also participate in the study.

The Salli study will also investigate whether regular use of the beneficial bacterium Streptococcus salivarius K12 can reduce the incidence of other upper respiratory tract infections in children, the need for antibiotics, visits to the doctor and parental absences from work due to children’s illness. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the study is safe and easy, as no samples are taken and the study does not require visits to a doctor or hospital.

The researchers are paediatric infectious disease specialist Terhi Tapiainen and MD PhDs Suvi Sarlin and Ulla Koskela from Oulu University Hospital’s children and youth clinic. The study is a researcher-oriented academic research project funded by Oulu University Hospital’s state funding for research, the Lastentautien tutkimussäätiö foundation for paediatric research, the Academy of Finland and the University of Oulu Graduate School, UniOGS. The study is not funded by the manufacturers of the research product.


Last updated: 29.9.2020