A “debilitating” psychiatric condition in children appears to be curable through antibiotics – but not enough doctors know about it.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Trinity Professor Luke O’Neill said Paediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus (PANDAS) is far more common than most people - including medical professionals – realise.
“Children get infected with bacteria and develop psychiatric illness,” he said.
Children develop PANDAS or Paediatric Acute Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS) when the immune system, detecting streptococcus, sends the “wrong signals” to the brain, making the body react against it.
'He thought birds were going to attack him'
Prof O'Neill said a woman contacted him last year about her seven-year-old grandson who had strange psychiatric symptoms.
“He came home from school one day and had very strange behaviour,” he said.
“He said there was radiation coming out the sockets and thought that birds were going to attack him when he went outdoors.
“Then his mother takes him to the doctor, and they give him antibiotics for a sinus infection and the neuropsychiatric symptoms went away.
“It's a remarkable example of how you clear up a very complicated sort of syndrome with antibiotics.”
'Most paediatricians don’t know about it'
Prof O’Neill said PANDAS and PANS are both mysteries to many doctors.
“It turns out most GPs don't know about it,” he said.
“The Economist did a survey showing most paediatricians don’t know about it.”
The survey showed 95% of parents whose children have PANDAS said their family doctors were not able to diagnose it.
Around half of paediatricians also said they had never heard of the disease and roughly one-in-five of the parents surveyed said their paediatrician felt that the diagnosis was controversial.
Prof O’Neill said doctors often diagnose children with PANDAS/PANS with other conditions such as ADHD, psychosis or autism.
“Some even end up in institutions,” he said. “Yet it could be stopped with an antibiotic.”
He said the immune system is extremely complex, particularly when it comes to working with the brain.
“If you've any autoimmune disease, you have a 40% increased risk of schizophrenia,” he said.
“There’s also this strange disease called Sydenham chorea, where you develop all these strange movements and ticks caused by a bacteria.”
It’s important children with psychiatric symptoms are also tested for autoimmune conditions, according to Prof O’Neill.
“Psychiatrists need to learn some immunology action,” he said. “Lots more research is needed.”