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Doctors see rise in ear infections, strep throat in kids

Medical experts say the lingering effects of the pandemic could be behind a surge in infections they're seeing in children right now.

MINNEAPOLIS — If you have visited a pediatrician lately, you've likely been met by very busy waiting rooms.

You're not alone.

Doctors are seeing a lot of kids with ear infections and strep throat right now. So, what’s the explanation for this?

Dr. Stacene Maroushek is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hennepin Healthcare. She says pediatricians are seeing a lot of viruses right now and viral infections can often cause an ear infection in young kids.

“If you get a cold, an upper respiratory viral infection, it causes a lot of nasal congestion, but it also causes a lot of congestion and clogging of the tube that drains your ear — the eustachian tube," she said. "That can cause some fluid to back up in your ears and that can be a nice spot for bacteria to grow, and that’s how you can get a bacterial infection in your ear.”

Maroushek says it makes sense that if more viruses are going around right now, kids would be more likely to get an ear infection as a result of a viral infection.

"We're still seeing a lot of viruses right now; they're different now. The viruses are different. We were seeing a lot of rhinovirus, enterovirus, RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] and influenza before. Now, we're seeing adenovirus, and we're seeing parainfluenza virus and we're also seeing some influenza B. We had a couple of kids in this morning who had influenza,” Maroushek said.

Medical Director of Children’s Minnesota’s Minneapolis Primary Care Clinic, Dr. Chase Shutak, said the same is true for the patients in their care. 

“Usually, things are getting better at this point. Usually, infections are going down. This is a bit of a surprise,” Dr. Chase Shutak said

Shutak says a separate viral infection like a cold could make a child more susceptible to getting other infections, like strep throat.

“If strep throat is going around in a community and people aren’t washing their hands well, and we’re not identifying it and treating it, then kids can keep spreading it around,” Shutak explained.

Shutak said doctors are still trying to figure out why these viruses are hanging around so long. They believe it could be connected to some lingering effects from the pandemic, with kids having less exposure to other kids these past few years, and many who are still behind on their routine vaccinations.

Shutak is hoping the numbers will go down once kids get out of school for summer vacation.

“I would expect it to get better just from history and what we’ve seen over the years. However, the pandemic really did adjust the seasonality for all of the viruses and all of the infections. So, it could be that we’re still adjusting to that.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some common symptoms of an ear infection in children include ear pain, fever, fussiness or irritability, rubbing or tugging at an ear and difficulty sleeping.

The CDC says many ear infections can be treated at home, but parents should seek medical care if their child has a fever of 102.2 degrees or higher.

The agency also says parents should consider medical care if there is pus, discharge or fluid coming from the ear, worsening symptoms, symptoms that last more than two to three days, or hearing loss.

For more information from the CDC, click here.

For information about strep throat, you can visit the CDC’s website here, or the Minnesota Department of Health’s guide on strep throat here.


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