Can Viruses Cause OCD?

Kimberly Morrow

Viruses can be responsible for causing sudden onset OCD, PANS, PANDAS, and other mental health symptoms.

For many years, I have seen children who experience sudden, severe symptoms of OCD that seem to have come from nowhere. These children and their families desperately need professionals who understand these symptoms and their devastating impact.

Once, I wrote a *post about this on Facebook. People shared it over 1400 times. This may be impacting more children and families than we know.

I remember a three-year-old who had a strep infection. One day she was healthy, and the next day she was convinced her house was collapsing. She screamed for hours, insisting her parents do something to stop the house from falling on them. By the time this family reached me, the father had erected beams throughout the house. However, even this was not enough to console his daughter.

Another family sought my help for their seven-year-old son. His handwriting had severely deteriorated, and he was extremely angry and impulsive. He was also convinced he would kill himself.

This family had endured many medical and psychological appointments, but none provided answers.

I asked if he had any illnesses or viruses before these symptoms started. The parents looked at each other and said, “It’s funny you asked. He had the flu, and we both wondered if this was somehow connected to the flu.”

PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndromes) or PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) occurs when strep or other viruses trigger a misdirected immune response that results in inflammation on a child’s brain.

In turn, the child quickly begins to exhibit life-changing symptoms such as OCD, anxiety, tics, personality changes, a decline in math and handwriting abilities, sensory sensitivities, restrictive eating, and more. (Source: PANDAS network )

Even though NIMH has studied this condition for years, we are just beginning to understand PANS/PANDAS, why it happens, and how to treat it.

The protocol I recommend starts with getting a good history from the parents. If I suspect PANS/PANDAS, I provide them with information through the International Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation and the PANDAS network.

Then, I ask them to get their child started on an anti-inflammatory medication. I make a referral to a pediatric psychiatrist or pediatrician specializing in PANS/PANDAS. These specialists know what antibiotics and SSRIs to prescribe to help these children regulate their symptoms during recovery.

I then begin to teach the family Cognitive Behavior Therapy with ERP.

Early on, the children are too symptomatic to benefit from this therapy immediately. However, the child and family will need your support until the child’s brain begins to calm, and they can safely engage in the therapy.

So, yes. Viruses can be responsible for causing OCD, PANS, and PANDAS. And how we provide treatment is different from other forms of OCD.

Share this page and information with your colleagues so more therapists can offer the help these families desperately need to recover from PANS/PANDAS.


*Read the article I shared on Facebook: Parents Warn of Rare Disease Caused by Strep That Doctors Often Miss.




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