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Viral Infection In Nose Can Lead To Middle Ear Infection

Update Date: Sep 06, 2014 04:32 PM EDT

Middle ear infections can be triggered by a viral infection in the nose, instead solely by a bacterial infection, according to new study. The middle ear infection affects more than 85 percent of children under the age of 3.

 By simultaneously infecting the nose with a flu virus and a bacterium that is one of the leading causes of ear infections in children, the researchers found that the flu virus inflamed the nasal tissue and significantly increased both the number of bacteria and their propensity to travel through the Eustachian tube and infect the middle ear, the press release added.

"Every individual has bacteria in the nose that most of the time doesn't cause problems," said the study's lead author, W. Edward Swords, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at Wake Forest Baptist, in the press release. "However, under certain conditions those bacteria can migrate to the middle ear and cause an ear infection, and now we have a better understanding of how and why that happens."

The bacterium, researchers used in the animal study is known to exist in the noses of children in two phases - one relatively invasive while the other relatively benign. 

"These findings suggest that a flu infection modifies the response of the immune system to this particular bacterium, enabling even the type that has previously been considered benign to infect the middle ear," Swords added.

The study is published in the journal Infection and Immunity. 

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