Can Viruses Cause OCD?

Viruses may be responsible for causing sudden onset OCD and other mental health symptoms. For many years I have seen children who are experiencing severe symptoms of OCD that seem to have come out of nowhere. These children and their families are beside themselves looking for someone who understands the devastating effects these symptoms are having on their child’s ability to function in all areas of their life as well as the effects on their family. I recently posted an article on facebook about this and within an hour it had been shared 1400 times! This may be affecting many more children than we know.

I remember a 3 y.o. child who had a strep infection one day and the next day she was convinced her house was collapsing, screaming for hours on end, insisting that 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 help for their 7 y.o son who one day was convinced he would kill himself, his handwriting deteriorated severely, and he had become extremely angry and impulsive. They had endured many medical and psychological appointments, none of which had answers for them. I asked if he had any illnesses before these symptoms began, the parents looked at each other and said, “It’s funny you asked, he had the flu, and we both wondered if   this is 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 which 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, decline in math and handwriting abilities, sensory sensitivities, restrictive eating, and more. (PANDAS network )

Even though NIMH has been studying this for several years, we are just beginning to wrap our heads around what is causing this, why it happens, and how to treat it. The protocol that I follow 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 as well as the Pandas network. I ask them to get their child started on an anti inflammatory medication. I refer them to a pediatric psychiatrist or pediatrician who specializes in PANS/PANDAS as they will probably need antibiotic therapy and an SSRI.  I then begin to teach the family Cognitive Behavior Therapy with ERP (for a webinar go to OCD: Ten Best Treatment Strategies for Children & Adolescents). Oftentimes 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 down and they can engage in the therapy.

Please share this information with your colleagues so more therapists can offer the help these families so desperately need.


To view the article I posted on facebook, go to:PANS/PANDAS article

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