NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – In children, otitis media is frequently associated with a cold-like illness. However, such illnesses are not a prerequisite for viral infections leading to otitis media, researchers report in the June issue of Pediatrics.

Dr. Cuneyt M. Alper of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and colleagues sought to determine the temporal relationships among colds, upper respiratory viruses and otitis media in young children.

The team followed 60 children from 24 families through a typical cold season. Parents recorded any signs of illness. There were weekly pneumatic otoscopic examinations, and periodic polymerase chain reaction assay of collected nasal fluids for common viruses.

There were 193 cold-like illnesses and 1 or more assayed viruses were recovered in 73% of cases where samples were available. Of non-cold-like illnesses, only 54 (18%) of 297 assays were positive for virus. In both groups of illnesses, rhinovirus was the most commonly found. Others included influenza, adenovirus and respiratory syncytial virus.

There were 93 diagnosed episodes of otitis media, 70% of which occurred during a cold-like illness. Overall, the otitis-media complication rate for a cold-like illness was 33%.

Of the 79 otitis-media episodes with available nasal samples, 77% were associated with a positive virus result. However, in contrast to certain other reports, the researchers found "no evidence of skewing in favor of a specific virus."

The investigators conclude that "otitis media is a complication of viral infections both with and without concurrent cold-like illness."

Pediatrics 2007;119:1069-1075.