Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Viral-bacterial co-infection in Australian Indigenous children with acute otitis media

Michael J Binks1*, Allen C Cheng12, Heidi Smith-Vaughan1, Theo Sloots3, Michael Nissen3, David Whiley3, Joseph McDonnell1 and Amanda J Leach1

Author Affiliations

1 Ear and Respiratory Unit, Child Health Division, Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin 0810, Australia

2 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne 3800, Australia

3 Queensland Paediatric Infectious Diseases Laboratory, Sir Albert Sakzewski Virus Research Centre, Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane 4029, Australia

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:161  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-161

Published: 7 June 2011



Acute otitis media with perforation (AOMwiP) affects 40% of remote Indigenous children during the first 18 months of life. Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis are the primary bacterial pathogens of otitis media and their loads predict clinical ear state. Our hypothesis is that antecedent respiratory viral infection increases bacterial density and progression to perforation.


A total of 366 nasopharyngeal swabs from 114 Indigenous children were retrospectively examined. A panel of 17 respiratory viruses was screened by PCR, and densities of S. pneumoniae, H. influenzae and M. catarrhalis were estimated by quantitative real time PCR. Data are reported by clinical ear state.


M. catarrhalis (96%), H. influenzae (91%), S. pneumoniae (89%) and respiratory viruses (59%) were common; including rhinovirus (HRV) (38%), polyomavirus (HPyV) (14%), adenovirus (HAdV) (13%), bocavirus (HBoV) (8%) and coronavirus (HCoV) (4%). Geometric mean bacterial loads were significantly higher in children with acute otitis media (AOM) compared to children without evidence of otitis media. Children infected with HAdV were 3 times more likely (p < 0.001) to have AOM with or without perforation.


This study confirms a positive association between nasopharyngeal bacterial load and clinical ear state, exacerbated by respiratory viruses, in Indigenous children. HAdV was independently associated with acute ear states.