What Is PANDAS? The Oddly Named, Scary Disorder Caused by Strep Throat
There are more than 3 million cases of strep throat each year. Of all the total strep throat cases diagnosed, only 10% are adults — meaning wholly 90% of strep cases involve children. Though strep throat is irritating, uncomfortable, and can be quite painful for children, it can lead to much more severe health concerns. Chief among them: PANDAS.
What Is PANDAS?
According to CBS News, strep throat can trigger PANDAS, bizarre behavior disorders characterized by sudden-onset symptoms such as tics, tantrums, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and trouble sleeping. PANDAS, or pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcus, affects a small percentage of children and young teens following a strep throat infection.
“One day he’s doing this thing really happy and wanting to go out and do his thing, and suddenly the next day he wakes up and we aren’t sure what’s going on,” said Saul Markowitz, whose son, Brandon, suffered from this disorder at just five years old.
After taking Brandon to the doctor, Saul and his wife Bonnie were told that it was likely PANDAS.
“What that basically means is a child gets an infection and the antibodies to that infection end up attacking the brain instead of the germs,” said DR. Elizabeth Spaar, PANDAS expert. “For the kids where it isn’t caught early and misdiagnosed, there can be lifelong effects from it, unfortunately.”
How common is PANDAS? Unfortunately, the prevelance of the disorder is unknown, though some researchers estimate it can affect anywhere from 1 in 200 to 1 in 500 children. Symptoms can worsen dramatically and immediately after strep infections.
Here are some symptoms of PANDAS to be aware of:
- Obsessive, compulsive, and repetitive behaviors
- Memory problems
- Separation anxiety, fear, and panic attacks
- Hyperactivity or an inability to focus
- Incessant streaming, irritability, and frequent mood changes
- Near catatonic state
- Emotional and development regression
- Joint pain
- Frequent urination and bedwetting
- Emotional and developmental regression
- Rapid weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Visual or auditory hallucinations
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
- Sensitivities to light, touch, and sound
- Deterioration of small motor skills and poor handwriting
Treatment for PANDAS
So what can parents do to avoid this frightening disease? The National Institute of Mental Health has this advice for parents and caregivers:
“Sterilize or replace toothbrushes during and following the antibiotics treatment, to make sure that the child isn’t re-infected with strep. It might also be helpful to ask a health care provider to perform throat cultures on the child’s family members to make sure that none are ‘strep carriers,’ who could serve as a source of the strep bacteria.”
If you are worried your son or daughter is too sick to go to school, read our guide to determining whether or not to call a sick day. In addition, the prescription for PANDAS is the same as it is for most severe cases of strep throat: “The best treatment for acute episodes of PANDAS is to treat the strep infection causing the symptoms (if it is still present) with antibiotics.”