Strep throat may be linked to OCD, autism-spectrum disorders

Thursday, May 9th, 2013 By


The use of antibiotics may now expand to helping treat some strep throat related OCD cases. Image: Flickr / _lulu / CC-BY

In a research paper due to be published next year, an Israeli research team has linked children’s strep throat to obsessive-compulsive disorder. A condition called PANDAS, it is estimated that 1 to 2 percent of children who get strep throat develop this complication. This strep-OCD link could also account for some autism and tic-spectrum disorders in children.

Strep linked to OCD in children

In a study on rats in Tel Aviv, a team of researchers has linked strep throat infections to causing obsessive-compulsive disorders. This connection has long been theorized and is generally known as PANDAS, Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections. This is when children develop OCD or tic disorders soon after catching strep throat or scarlet fever. The streptococcal bacteria causes the body to produce, and in some cases overproduce, antibodies that bind to dopamine receptors in the brain. This binding changes how the neurotransmitters work, and in some cases causes obsessive-compulsive disorder and tic disorders such as Tourette’s syndrome.

Strep link could have autism implications

The study that links strep throat with OCD could have implications on diagnoses and treatment of rapid-onset autism. OCD and autism are often, though not always, linked. In some children, the onset symptoms of OCD and autism can be very similar. Though this study did not find that a strep throat infection “run wild” could cause autism, it could be one more piece in the puzzle of neurological conditions.

Treating OCD and tic disorders through strep

The linking of strep throat and streptococcal infections with OCD and tic disorders has important implications for the treatment of these brain conditions. For children who show a rapid onset of neurological symptoms, treatment with high doses of powerful antibiotics could reduce the antibodies in the blood that bind with dopamine receptors. This highlights the ongoing issue with antibiotic resistance and over-prescription, however, because the streptococcal bacteria has been showing increased resistance. Be sure that if your child is being given antibiotics it is for a bacterial infection, not a viral one.


ABC News

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