Strep throat one minute, OCD the next: How bacterial infections in children could cause behavioural issues
The International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) has issued a warning that mental illnesses in children such as OCD can be triggered by bacterial infections.
During a conference on Thursday, experts said that children can develop tics and compulsions associated with OCD or Tourette's Syndrome after contracting infections like strep throat that are caused by Group A streptococcus bacteria.
The scientists behind the startling theory are calling the condition Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, or PANDAS, for short.
Strep throat and other infections caused by Group A streptococcus bacteria may be the reason children develop OCD and Tourette's doctors warn
The belief is that where normally antibodies are produced to fight bacteria and eliminate them from the body, in sufferers of PANDAS, the antibodies attack the part of the brain that controls emotions, behaviour and physical movements.
IOCDF officials are advising: 'If a parent recognizes these symptoms developing seemingly overnight, along with a glaring change in their child’s personality and/or behavior, they should immediately have their child tested for strep.'
Speaking to MSN, one mother, Kelly Wooldridge, told how her son, Brendan, now ten, changed overnight from a laid back, loving boy into a tantrum thrower with tics and compulsions.
'He would walk up and choke kids at school, or pick up a chair and throw it at them,' she recalled.
Dr Swedo, a leading PANDAS expert and senior investigator in neuroscience at the National Institutes of Health, confirmed Brandon is not the only victim.
'Parents describe it as a “possession” or an “explosion’ of symptoms,”' she said.
Victim: Joshua Suthar who was diagnosed with PANDAS has helped his mother write a book about the illness so others learn about the condition
Joshua Suthar was four years old when he
started acting bizarrely at home and his parents were forced to look
for help. After two years of being evaluated by neurologists,
psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists, they finally
discovered that he suffered from PANDAS.
His mother, Lori, has since written a book about her son's experience with the help of Joshua and a ghost writer.
Doctors who support Dr Swedo's
research claim that quick treatment of strep throat with antibiotics can
reverse the tic-inducing symptoms before they become chronic but if
left unattended the symptoms will return in a more severe way.
About one percent of all children have OCD but it isn't yet known how many of these are victims of PANDAS research.
Dr Swedo believes that antibodies produced to fight the bacteria instead attack the parts of the brain that control emotions, physical movement and behaviour
Dr. Michael Jenike, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, said: 'It could be dozens of kids a day in this country,' even though some children, of course, have a genetic disposition to such mental disorders.
This month Dr Swedo and fellow researchers have been investigating the possibility that there may even be further causes of such a sudden onset of mental illness and are urging doctors to consider a wider range of signs when they're examining a child suffering from tics and similar behavioural problems.
'It’s clinically very, very distinct,' Dr Swedo explained. 'Your only job is to find a treatable trigger.'
Since hearing about the link between
strep and OCD, Kelly Wooldridge had her son tested for strep throat only
to find he was indeed positive despite any indication he was sick.
Appeal: Joshua is just one kid who suffers from the problem according to Dr. Michael Jenike who said: 'It could be dozens of kids a day in this country'
Now he's taking intravenous immunoglobulin that are thought to suppress harmful infalmmation in the body and the transformation has been astonishing.
'He’s had not one trip to the principal’s office,' she revealed. 'The biggest thing now is that he’s happy.'
Though there is still some disagreement among experts regarding the relationship between Streptococcal Infections and OCD, what is not up for debate is the unquestionable truth that behavioural symptoms can arrive very dramatically.
'You have a treatable and perhaps preventable form of mental illness,' Dr Swedo lamented. 'While we’re debating, these kids could be being treated.