Most Parents Have Never Heard Of This Frightening Childhood Illness

No parent likes to see their kids sick, but every child comes down with a minor illness from time to time.

As our children begin a new school year, they are exposed to colds and viruses, and despite our best efforts, we cannot completely prevent illness from occurring.

But there is a frightening complication that can arise from childhood illness, and most parents have never heard of it.

Cold and flu season is on the way, and contagious illnesses like strep throat will be on the rise as well.

Many of these illnesses are minor, and our children recover fairly quickly.

What many parents don’t know, however, is that some viral and bacterial infections can lead to inflammation in the brain – specifically the basal ganglia – the area that processes information and is responsible for reasoning.

This secondary disease is extremely scary for both parent and child as sudden, severe behavioral changes can occur.

Expert physicians in these cases have termed them “PANS” or “PANDAS.”

PANS – Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome — encompasses a larger group of cases in which sudden psychiatric changes occur in children who have recently experienced a minor illness.

PANDAS – Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections — is a more specific instance of a child having these sudden symptoms following a strep infection like strep throat, or an illness like chicken pox or even Lyme disease.

All these big words are scary and confusing for parents, as are the symptoms.

Unlike other mental health disorders or psychiatric conditions that gradually appear over time, the symptoms of PANS or PANDAS escalate quickly, usually in full effect between 24-48 hours of their onset.

Symptoms include obsessive or compulsive behaviors, physical “tics,” extreme separation anxiety, bedwetting, or other irrational behaviors that are not typical for the child.

A child can be extremely restless, be moving strangely, or be hyper-sensitive to noise and light – sometimes to the point of hallucinating.

They may also be unable to concentrate or focus in any way, or severely agitated, irritable or aggressive.

While cases appeared as long as 30 years ago, they are fairly rare – only about 1 in 50 children come down with this inflammatory disease.

And physicians are stumped about what really causes it.

The National Institutes of Mental Health reported:

Some scientists believe that in certain children, rogue antibodies trickle through the blood-brain barrier and react with basal ganglia cells. This ambush inflames the brain, causing its functioning to go haywire.

Experts suspect that this reaction happens only with some strains of strep and only in children whose immune systems have been primed—for unknown reasons—to overreact to those strains, says Susan Swedo, M.D., chief of the Section on Behavioral Pediatrics at the National Institute of Mental Health.

As frightening as this disease sounds, doctors who have encountered it have seen good results with antibiotics.

In severe cases, doctors must administer IV antibodies from donor blood, but this treatment can lead to other complications.

And once a child has experienced PANS or PANDAS following an illness, they are at a higher risk of developing it in the future.

Some doctors think that children who have had an untreated bout of a streptococcal illness are at greater risk — for example, your child may not have had extreme symptoms with the initial illness and, therefore, did not see a doctor or receive antibiotics.

The most important thing to remember about PANS and PANDAS is that the symptoms are sudden and severe.

You will notice a drastic change in your child’s behavior – literally overnight – which some physicians describe as an “explosion.”

While there are still a lot of unknowns about these diseases – who they strike and why – one thing is clear.

If your child has recently gotten over a relatively minor illness and then experiences extreme, sudden, irrational behavioral symptoms, see a doctor at once.

Have you ever heard of PANS or PANDAS, or do you know someone who has experienced this with their child?  Leave us your thoughts.

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