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Local research could change how doctors across U.S. treat ear infections

Rochester Regional Health
Michael Pichichero speaks at a news conference announcing Rochester Regional Health's receipt of a federal contract to research ear infections.

Rochester Regional Health has received a federal contract to study ear infections.

Michael Pichichero, the Rochester General Hospital doctor who will oversee the research, said the results could have national implications.

The germs that are causing ear infections today are not the same as they were just a few years ago, Pichichero said. “The bacteria are changing, and they’re changing very rapidly.”

Pichichero, who has studied ear infections for more than a decade, said that as the bacteria that cause those infections evolve, they render antibiotics ineffective. Eventually, that means an abundance of antibiotic-resistant germs.

Under the federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control, doctors at Rochester Regional Health will analyze fluids from the ears of children with ear infections.

They’ll start with a procedure called an ear tap -- technically a tympanocentesis -- in which they make a tiny puncture in the eardrum of a child with an ear infection.

“An ear infection occurs behind the eardrum,” Pichichero said. “Behind that eardrum is basically a pus pocket, and that pus is causing the child to have fever and pain and a sleepless night. When we take the tiny needle and open up the pus pocket, the child has instant relief of pain.”

The researchers will test different antibiotics on the pus in an effort to see which are most effective against the bacteria it contains.

Pichichero said what they find could change the way that doctors across the country treat the ear infections that result in 30 million doctors’ visits each year.

The federal funding means that the ear tap procedure can be performed at no additional cost to patients, Rochester Regional Health said. Pichichero said doctors will ask parents of patients between 6 months and 3 years old who visit Rochester Regional Health facilities with ear infections if they are interested in participating in the study.

The research can also help local doctors better understand the nuances of ear infections in Monroe County: Bacteria populations vary across relatively small geographic areas.

“Even in the greater Rochester area, we see that the germs are a little different in Geneva, and a little different in Bay Creek,” Pichichero said. “They are genetically different, and that might mean a slightly different treatment.”

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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