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


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

  • Lisa

    I believe autism is caused by strep if left untreated or not noticed early enough. Doctors are not looking for strep in young children. My daughter became sick when she was 2. She could not communicate to me what was wrong. She had no fever. She started to hallucinate and would scream whenever she heard the radio or tv come on. She became very uncooperative. I watched my normal, happy child turn into someone I did not know. When I took her to her pediatrician, I begged her to not dismiss her, which is what she did. I insisted she at least check her throat. When she did the swab my daughters throat actually bled because it was so raw. Her diagnosis- strep. The doctor said that children her age don't get strep. She only got better after taking her antibiotics, she still has some sensitivity to noise. I beg of mothers to pay attention to your children and trust your insticts. I wonder sometimes what would have happened to my daughter had I not gotten antibiotics that day.

  • johnsmom

    Wow! Well said PANDAS MOM. I agree 100% with your 1st and 2nd post. Believe me, we are doing diet, therapies, etc… you name it. In the end, its all about a broken immune system and its sad that the research and doctors are not working faster to address that these broken pathways that are affecting our childrens brains.

    Thank you!

  • David White

    If you do suffer with an OCD conditions please read my book Overcoming OCD & Depression: My Personal Journey and Recovery. It could help many to cut down on their episodes of OCD. This is a tough condition but you can get better. It talks about how important Mediatation, A proper diet, and medications, and exercise can help cut down on troubles of OCD. Dave White

    • PANDASMom

      David, with all due respect to you and the therapy and sheer perseverence in the face of OCD, this is not about psychological self-help. This is about a MEDICAL condition which, treated MEDICALLY, goes a long way toward setting you on the right path to healing and managing OCD for a lifetime. My family lives and breathes in a world of PANDAS OCD, and without antibiotics, all of the therapy, tough love, and "gumption" in the world would not have rescued our son from the depths of his compulsions. When an auto-immune condition is at the root of an illness like OCD, you can only treat it successfully and long-term by treating that medical disorder. Therapy certainly plays a part, because you have to manage the behavior while you take the slow road toward physical healing and immune balance. But it's time for everyone — sufferers, families of sufferers, medical professionals and mental health professionals — to pull their collective heads out of the sand and, at the very least, definitively RULE OUT the potential role of microbes and auto-immune conditions in mental illness. Otherwise, you're just slapping a Band-Aid on a gushing wound.

    • PANDASMom

      Not to minimize your situation, however. Props to you for your journey and recovery; I wish you only the best. But let's not take our eyes off the prize here: maybe you wouldn't have had as tough a journey as you did if the fields of medical and mental health were more curious, studied, prepared, investigatory, open-minded, cooperative and willing to consider our minds and bodies as ONE vehicle, in need of holistic consideration, rather than two entirely unrelated components when it comes to these "mental illnesses."

  • chickiepea

    excellent article! my daughter actually has pandas. you can click my name to read our blog and some of our story.

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