A mental illness that strikes young children suddenly may be caused by a range of factors, including infections, according to a new report. The paper, published in the journal Pediatrics & Therapeutics, reflects a consensus statement on a condition called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections -- or PANDAS.
PANDAS causes the abrupt onset of obsessive-compulsive symptoms in young children. In many cases, children fell ill after having a simple, childhood streptococcal infection, such as strep throat. The illness has been controversial, however, with some researchers suggesting that the children have traditional child-onset OCD and that infection is unrelated to the mental illness. Others, however, maintain that sudden-onset child OCD, and perhaps other mental illnesses, may have causes related to infection or immune-system dysfunction and, thus, may be treated rapidly and successfully with therapies that address the underlying problem.
More recently, research suggests something -- an infection, immune-system problem or environmental exposure -- can indeed trigger a stunningly fast onset of OCD. The new paper, led by scientists at the National Institutes of Health, broadens the definition of the illness to describe sudden-onset OCD in children no matter what the cause. Thus, the authors suggest calling the broader condition PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome).