What Every Parent Needs To Know About Strep & PANDAS

Panda bears are lovingly adored by people of all ages. However, there's another type of panda that every parent should be aware of—a medical condition called PANDAS, which can occur in children after they've had strep throat. It stands for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections. If your child seems to have been a bear to deal with after having strep throat, he or she may have PANDAS. Here's what you need to know.

How Strep Causes PANDAS

The strep bacteria survive in the host through molecular mimicry, which means it makes the outside of its cell look almost identical to the surrounding molecules in the host's body. This helps them hide from the immune system so the bacteria don't get attacked. But eventually, when the immune system does recognize the invaders, the immune system produces antibodies. However, these antibodies can sometimes also react to the real molecules that were mimicked by the bacteria.

Since strep bacteria can make its way throughout the body, it can also hide in the brain and mimic the surrounding brain molecules. When the immune system reacts, the antibodies can attack the real molecules in the brain. This can cause neuropsychiatric symptoms such as obsessive compulsive disorder and tics.

How PANDAS Is Diagnosed

There are no lab tests for PANDAS, but it can have a clinical diagnosis. This means there are certain criteria that need to be met in order for the doctor to be able to give a diagnosis. Of course, since it's a pediatric disorder, the patient needs to be a child first and foremost. Here are a few of the criteria:

  • positive strep throat culture or scarlet fever history
  • sudden onset of neurological symptoms, such as jerky movements and physical hyperactivity
  • sudden onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms of a tic disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder
  • symptoms with an episodic course, which means there are dramatic swings in severity of the symptoms

What Is the Treatment for PANDAS

Of course, any time your child has a strep infection, it will be important that you start him or her on medical treatment with antibiotics as soon as possible before PANDAS kicks into high gear. To deal with the neuropsychiatric symptoms, a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended. A neuropsychiatrist will determine the type of medication and the strength based on the severity of the episodes. It's crucial for your child to have ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy.

For more information, contact a pediatrician in your area.