Children under 2 in large daycare centers are 36 times more likely than stay-at-home children to catch pneumococcal infections, a leading cause of earaches, pneumonia and meningitis, Finnish researchers report.
The risk of such infections is much less in smaller family day-care centers, but it still is 4.4 times greater than at home, the researchers said in today’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Pneumococcal germs are common even in healthy children, and experts speculate that the risk of infection increases when more youngsters are thrown together.
For now, there may be little that parents and day-care centers can do to protect youngsters, said Dr. P. Joan Chesney, professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee at Memphis and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ infectious diseases committee.
“This is not a panic situation,” Chesney said Tuesday.
Still, a parent with a child who has frequent ear infections and attends a large day-care center may want to move the youngster to a family day care - one in a private home with fewer than six youngsters, said Dr. Ben Schwartz, an epidemiologist with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Schwartz said breast-feeding, good hygiene and keeping children away from cigarette smoke are the only other ways to try to head off childhood pneumococcal disease.
Pneumococcal germs live in the noses of 10 percent to 30 percent of younger toddlers. In only a small percentage of children do the germs invade the middle ears, lungs, brain lining or blood, causing illness, Chesney said.
The findings, from a study led by Dr. Aino K. Takala of the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland, are based on a comparison of 149 youngsters with pneumococcal disease and 284 similar healthy children.