Psychiatric conditions could be caused by bacteria and viruses, according to Trinity Professor Luke O’Neill.
Speaking on Show Me the Science, Prof O’Neill said children often present with psychiatric problems, but it is actually an infection.
“Maybe things like schizophrenia might involve the immune system, which of course, gives us a very exciting prospect to treat these diseases,” he said.
He said some children suffer from paediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcus (PANDAS).
“Streptococci are a very important type of bacteria,” he said. “People have worked on them for donkey's years.
“In Trinity, we've got whole labs working on streptococcal because they cause various nasty diseases.”
Prof O'Neill read about one little boy who was convinced dangerous radiation was coming out of plugs and birds were trying to kill him because of PANDAS.
“The trouble is many children aren't so lucky because they get diagnosed with mental illness or psychosis,” Prof O’Neill explained.
“There's also another illness named PANS - paediatric acute neuropsychiatric syndrome.
“Amazingly, a survey was done, and many doctors aren't aware of the diseases - half of all paediatricians weren’t aware of it, nearly one in five parents said their paediatrician failed to give them a diagnosis.
“It’s all about awareness – if you can diagnose quick, you can treat it with antibiotics.”
Prof O’Neill noted that thankfully science is advancing, and more people are aware of PANDAS.
“Attitudes are changing, thankfully, and the science behind it now says this is an autoimmune type of disease,” he said.
“You're infected with streptococcus and your immune system fires off to fight the streptococcus.
“The band starts to make auto antibodies against components in your brain.
“We need more studies on it, but it certainly the evidence grows and grows that this particular psychiatric illness in children is caused by the immune system going off kilter.”