I had never seen anyone quite like “Max.” The plunge from what appeared to be a normal 8 year-old boy to a scared, paranoid, fragile child who was grasping to hold on to reality was striking. Max knew what many of his doctors had yet to discover, he had a raging strep infection. And, this infection, like many times in the past, would run rampant in his body, largely undetected, causing him to experience a host of symptoms of serious mental illness.
In 1998, Dr. Susan Swedo, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), first described in the scientific literature a subtype of OCD in which children demonstrated an abrupt onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms (OCD, tics, ADHD-like symptoms, anxiety) preceded by streptococcal infection. This syndrome was termed PANDAS, Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections. In PANDAS, the body’s immune system is over-reactive to strep bacteria, leading to psychiatric and neurological symptoms.
The greatest challenge for Max was the professional community’s debate over the very existence of PANDAS/PANS.