Kary Steinberg didn’t think her twin sons’ strep throat could turn into mental illnesses.
But when one of her sons developed a debilitating neurosis and the other experienced a series of psychotic and violent meltdowns, Steinberg believed a disease with a peculiar acronym might have been the issue.
PANDAS, or Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, is a syndrome that doctors have only recently begun studying.
Even so, the controversial disease is gaining momentum in the medical community.
New evidence suggests that when someone gets strep throat, the antibodies fighting the infection may mistakenly attack certain parts of the brain. This might result in the development of mental illnesses such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Schizophrenia or Anorexia.
The good news? The same scientists who believe PANDAS causes OCD also believe that if the disease is caught early, simple antibiotics can diminish its symptoms.
“Within eight hours of going on antibiotics, my sons’ symptoms were already starting to go away,” said Steinberg, who is now an advocate for ThingPandas.com. “If it hadn’t been for that, my kids would be in special education now.”
Advocates like Steinberg have faced major criticism from the pediatrics community, which is generally reluctant to prescribe antibiotics to children with PANDAS symptoms – especially since scientific research on the disease has been sparse. When Steinberg asked her doctor if he thought her boys might have had it, Steinberg said he laughed at her.
The Academic Pediatric Association has come out strongly against the use of antibiotics to treat non-bacterial diseases. They site other health authorities who say that taking antibiotics reduces resistance to bacteria, and is a serious problem.
“Although antibiotics can provide life-saving benefits in the case of bacterial disease,” the APA stated in a study, “the overuse of antibiotics contributes to the development and spread of resistant organisms as well as the transfer of resistant genes among pathogenic and non-pathogenic organisms.”
Despite the controversy, PANDAS advocate groups at last felt welcome and credible at this weekend’s OCD Convention in San Diego.
“So many people have come up to this table wanting to know more – they have to know if their child has this, because if so, they can take their child off of meds and onto antibiotics,” Steinberg said.
Last year was the first time they attended the OCD convention. It was also at this time that a major scientific institution – the National Institute of Mental Health – supported PANDAS as a viable illness. The director of the NIMH, Thomas Insel, deemed PANDAS a frontier area for further research.
“Until now, whether a child presenting with sudden onset of OCD and/or tic symptoms gets checked for possible involvement of strep has varied… I am hopeful that will begin to change in light of the new evidence,” he said in his blog.
The OCD Convention is ongoing throughout the weekend at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina.