International OCD Foundation Warns Infections May Trigger Some Mental Illness

Sudden Onset OCD Featured in Journal of Pediatrics & Therapeutics

February 23 2012; Boston MA /PRNewswire/ — Today the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) announced their support for children and families suffering from Sudden Onset Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They are releasing two new PSAs created to bring awareness and engender change surrounding the disorder PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections) and PANS (Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome).

The PSA release coincides with publication this month of a consensus statement on diagnostic criteria for PANS in the journal Pediatrics & Therapeutics by National Institutes of Health researcher Dr. Sue Swedo and colleagues. PANS builds on the criteria characterized in PANDAS, but broadens the range of possible causes.

With support from leading Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Michael Jenike, countless parents, advocates, and members of the medical community, the International OCD Foundation wants to make parents and physicians aware that infections can trigger mental illnesses, like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD.

PANDAS and PANS may be traceable to an infection such as strep. Usually, the body’s immune system makes antibodies to attack the infection, but in PANDAS those antibodies may mistakenly attack a part of the brain that controls emotions, behaviors, and physical movements. The result is sudden severe onset of OCD-like behavior and/or other mental illnesses, like eating disorders or tics.

One of these new PSA’s features PANDAS advocate Susan Boaz, mother to a child diagnosed with the disorder. She now sits on the Board of Directors for the International OCD Foundation. Susan’s message is clear in this alarming and critically important PSA to parents everywhere: OCD affects between 500,000 to 1 million children in the Unites States alone, robbing children of an otherwise normal joyful childhood.

“I didn’t know that untreated childhood infections like strep could result in mental illness,” says Boaz “Until, overnight my beautiful little girl became tormented by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, living in constant fear, unable to play with friends or go to school. This is an amazing time right now – a chance to stop mental illness in it tracks. What other disorder offers that hope? We need more research now!”

In addition to OCD, signs of PANDAS or PANS can include a child who suddenly behaves like a much younger child, or who suddenly cannot separate from a parent. Children may begin bedwetting again, or develop daytime urinary urgency, tics, and/or a worsening of motor skills or handwriting. Parents often say, “This is not my child. She was not like this yesterday.”

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. If positive, any active infections should be immediately treated with antibiotics in order to counteract these symptoms.

Dr. Michael Jenike of the Harvard Medical School and Chair of the International OCD Foundation Scientific Advisory Board, is featured in a separate video message that targets fellow physicians. Unfortunately, due to a lack of awareness, many doctors around the country have not been aware of how to properly treat children exhibiting PANDAS symptoms. Dr. Jenike’s video message speaks to doctors nationwide and urges them to learn more about the disorder and how to effectively treat it.

“Often a course of antibiotics can eliminate the psychiatric symptoms and may save a child from lifelong mental illness,” says Jenike.


Susan E. Swedo, James F. Leckman, and Noel R. Rose. Feb 2011, Pediatrics & Therapeutics.