A Scary Disorder Linked to Strep Throat

Last week, Grant Acord, a 17-year-old student in Oregon, was arrested on charges of attempted aggravated murder, among other things, after police found evidence supporting their suspicion that he was planning to build a bomb and blow up his school. Yesterday, his mother said in a statement that her son suffers from “PANDAS, a rare form of OCD.”

A few years back we ran a story about PANDAS, which stands for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections. Our article contained several examples of young children who had been developing completely typically until a strep infection triggered a radical change in their personality and behavior, marked by the same characteristics as a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Though the condition is supported by experts as well established as Susan Swedo, M.D., chief of the pediatrics and developmental neuroscience branch at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), it’s a controversial one; many doctors don’t believe it exists.

Meanwhile, the parents whose children are diagnosed with it–and the children themselves–suffer terribly. They watch their son or daughter turn into a different child. They struggle to understand how to calm their child’s fears and how to protect their other children from the physical harm the affected child often inflicts. One mom we interviewed for our story had to quit her job to care for her son, and sell her home in order to pay for his treatment. For parents like these, and the parents of Grant Acord, the controversy surrounding the diagnosis isn’t nearly as important as simply finding an effective treatment. (In some cases, antibiotics helps to ease symptoms.)

Researchers are studying and revising what’s known about the condition all the time. In fact, last year, NIMH changed the name PANDAS to PANS–for pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome. The new name was designed to create a broader category of OCD that isn’t directly linked to strep.

The story in Oregon, which technically has a “happy” ending, brings up important points. One is that it’s crucial for children with mental health issues to get the right help. And another is that we need to teach our children to do what Grant Acord’s classmate did when he thought something seemed strange: He spoke up, and may have prevented an awful tragedy.

 

Image: Girl at the end of a tunnel via Shutterstock.

 

 

 

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