Preliminary research suggests that strep infections in children may increase involuntary movements and disruptive behaviors associated with some psychiatric disorders.
An eight-month study of nearly 700 school age children by University of Florida researchers revealed that shortly after the number of strep infections in the group increased, there was a corresponding rise in involuntary movements and disruptive behaviors — symptoms that could indicate a neurological cause.
“During the fall months when there are more strep infections, after a short time lag, there are increased behavioral symptoms — enough to indicate an association,” said Tanya Murphy, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry in the College of Medicine.
“We did not assess the children for particular neuropsychiatric disorders, so we’re not saying actual disorders were present in the children, but the symptoms were there.”
The study findings are published this month in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry.
The research adds weight to the existence of PANDAS, short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus. Some scientists think a host of problems such as tics, personality change, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder may be triggered by strep infections in some children.
Scientists suspect group A streptococcal infections — the kind that cause strep throat in some people but occur without symptoms in others — may cause the body’s immune system to interact with brain cells that cause psychiatric symptoms in a small percentage of young patients.
Previously, research in the PANDAS field focused on children already diagnosed with psychiatric disorders.
“We were looking for patterns of association in just a standard group of children who ranged in age from 3 to 12 years,” Murphy said. “We were seeing 693 kids once a month for eight months and made more than 5,000 observations.”
Throat cultures were collected to test for group A streptococcal infections while a clinician screened for tics and other involuntary movements of the fingers, wrists, arms, elbows and shoulders.
In addition, as the children waited in line for their neurological screenings, the researcher made note of tic movements or any of nine categories of behaviors, ranging from fidgeting and hair-twirling to excessive touching and grimacing.
Analysis showed about 26 percent of children who had two or more strep infections displayed abnormal symptoms compared with 17 percent of children who were not infected or infected only once.
Although a direct link between strep infections and behavioral symptoms was not found, the findings indicate indicate an association that warrants further investigation.
Determining whether strep truly triggers psychiatric disorders in some children will require further exploration. Scientists would next like to monitor the effect of strep treatment on psychiatric symptoms or observe whether a patient’s infection-fighting antibodies rise or fall in step with psychiatric symptoms.
Source: University of Florida