Strep Will Trigger OCD, And The Beatles White Album Will Make You Kill

by Bill Brenner on December 27, 2011

An interesting news clip caught my eye this morning about how strep infections can trigger OCD. Thanks to my friend Traci Foust for sharing. Now for my skepticism.

Mood music:

As a clinical OCD case, I always have an eye out for articles on how OCD works and what the triggers are. I’m several years into managing my case, but you’re never past the point of learning new things.

First, the news that brings me to this post, courtesy of NBC affiliate WMGT-TV:

When Jason Dudinec suddenly started washing his hands and touching things ritually, his parents knew something wasn’t right.

The Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptoms came on suddenly and seemed to worsen.

A neurologist diagnosed Jason with a condition called PANDAS, short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections.

Jason’s strep infection affected a part of his brain that “turned on” OCD and other behavioral issues.

His mother, Jennifer, says when her son received penicillin for a sinus infection shortly after, the symptoms subsided.

When he received a steroid boost for his asthma they stopped all together.

Now they only reappear when he’s exposed to strep.

According to Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, PANDAS can cause behaviors such as:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Tourettes
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Sensory Issues
Mood Swings
Separation Anxiety

The catch is the symptoms come on suddenly and must be associated with a strep infection.

It affects children between 3 and 10 years old and in some cases may fade once they reach adulthood.

Dr. Wiznitzer says PANDAS is extremely rare, and while most people have been exposed to strep, few have the biology to contract PANDAS.

He adds, that while the National Institutes of Mental Health recognize PANDAS, not all scientists agree that it’s an actual condition.

I don’t doubt the science and reality behind this. It’s good information to have. But for those who are inclined to freak out over the possibility that their loved will “catch” OCD, consider this: If you have any hint of mental disorder within you, just about anything can be the trigger. You need to be aware of that, but you shouldn’t panic over it, either.

The following is my opinion, based on a life of experience and observation. It is not built on any scientific research, just so you read on with the proper perspective:

One consistent takeaway I get from everything I read: If you have a disorder buried inside you, just about anything will trigger it. Just like anything can trigger you if you have it in you to commit murder.

I’ve heard that Chron’s Disease can trigger OCD. That got my attention because I’ve suffered from that disease, too. I’ve heard that the drug Prednisone, which I took for the Chron’s, is connected to mental illness.

I think there are shards of truth in all of this. But I think the reasons are more simple than the things you might find under a microscope in the lab.

I think the biggest and most brutal triggers for any mental disorder go back to personal history.

I’ve written much about my own history. Some relatives aren’t happy about that, but I’ve done it for good reason: Everything I remember — whether things played out exactly as I remember or whether the years distorted some memories — affected how my OCD manifested itself.

For me, the childhood disease, loss of a sibling to asthma and best friend to suicide, the nasty divorce of my parents, etc., filled me with a worldview and fears that eventually hardened into my own brand of OCD. 

I think it’s the same for someone who grows up to be a serial killer. Charles Manson‘s mother abandoned him repeatedly and was a bad seed herself, robbing banks and going through men like tissues. Ronald DeFeo was convicted of murdering his entire family in the case that inspired “The Amityville Horror,” and by many accounts his was a household of vicious abuse, particularly at the hands of his father.

History is the cause that triggers the effect. The action that triggers the reaction. And with the seeds planted, just about anything can bring it to the surface.

If you’re inclined to be an obsessive, paranoid person, catching strep will bring out all your germ-based fears and actions. The article that inspired this post is based on  more chemical and biological factors, but it all fits into the larger puzzle.

If you grow up to be like Charles Manson, just about anything — in his case, The Beatles White Album — will compel you to do murderous things. 

Music has often been blamed for inspiring murder. AC/DC and Ricardo “Richard” Muñoz Ramírez come to mind.

In the end, though, I don’t think you can blame the music. They had the evil in them and something was going to bring it out sooner or later.

I thank God that it was OCD embedded in me and not something more sinister. OCD makes me do things compulsively and causes worry that spins out of control. But it’s never compelled me to kill anyone. That’s never been in me.

The examples I’ve mentioned are extreme when stacked next to the article about strep and OCD. But these are the things the article made me think of all the same.

Call me crazy. But at least I’m harmless.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth Stockwell December 27, 2011 at 4:10 am

Generally I agree, but just for the sake of argument, the Unabomber had no history of abuse or anything like that. He came from a normal family.

billbrenner1970 December 27, 2011 at 4:34 am

True. A lot of the kids who wound up in the Manson Family were from normal homes, too. I guess crazies are like snowflakes. No two are the same.

colleen miles December 27, 2011 at 8:08 am

Love the article, would like to read more of your material.
We all have a story and I guess we all react differently or more like affects us differently. I am surounded by ocd people, it ruined my marriage. My son has all of the above listed as ocd strep symptoms but I know its genetic. I was even blamed for his ocd! True I realized if I show fear, he learns that from me.
So sorry about your loss, Im asthmatic and that is a fear of mine, is this how I go?
Also lost a sister, a cousin and best friend to suicide. Iy all plays out so different than we expect!

Laura Coy December 27, 2011 at 10:32 am

My new advice: Read “You Can Heal Your Life” by: Louise L. Hay. You may not agree with all of her philosophy, but the content is truly interesting and inspirational.
As for your blog, and the article….everything is connected: life experience, outside influences, illness that invades the body, and wreaks havoc….I think we take for granted how a simple virus could change our body. If you have a virus that attacks the brain, well you are going to have neurological symptoms. If you are mentally ill, and you are exposed to violence, and listen to “violent” music, watch violent movies….if you hear voices…maybe they are coming from the music???? Why wouldn’t you be delusional, and think voices from a music album “made you do it”?? Mental illness is serious business. Then again, if an illness resides in the brain, it is both mental and physical, isn’t it? Different illnesses are classified differently, but really everything is connected. Our brain stores our memories, everything we learn is there. It also operates totally independently from any source from outside us. The brain runs the body: without the brain, we do not breathe, the heart pumps no blood, when the brain is dead, then so are we. Every nerve, muscle fiber, membrane, and cell are joined together in the body. It is one great machine, but it is not impossible to penetrate it. Our bodies, our minds are subject to circumstance, nature v. nurture, illness; both mental and physical. Even our thoughts can make us ill, if we choose to always think negatively. We do have a choice, regardless what happens to us. Sometimes, unfortunately, the damage is too great, and the vector wins.

Laura

Beth Anne West December 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Hi Bill…haven’t read this blogg article yet, but I LOVE the PIX !!!

Nancy Myers December 28, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Hi! Got led to your blog a Google alert I have set for “OCD.” My 14-year-old son has OCD — was diagnosed with it at age 6. When he woke up one day at 6 and started washing his hands incessantly, I asked the doctors about PANDAS and was told basically what you’ve read: that it was rare, that it was unproven, that it was controversial, that it might not exist at all, that even if it did, the OCD still had to be treated in the conventional way (therapy, SSRIs, etc.). That was in 2003, and I followed what the doctors said until 2009, when his OCD got so bad he spent most of the day curled up in the fetal position, so overwhelmed with anxiety, compulsions and rituals that just going into the bathroom took all his energy, let alone leaving the house, going to school, etc. The therapy didn’t help, the SSRIs didn’t help. So we finally convinced a doctor to administer blood tests for the strep antibodies (ASO and AntiDnase-B) which are thought to get through the blood brain barrier and attack the basal ganglia, causing the PANDAS behavior sets: tics, OCD, anxiety, etc. His antibody count was 5 times the lab’s normal range, even though he’d never had a case of classic strep throat. He was 12 at the time and we treated him with antibiotics. Today he’s almost 15, he’s an honor freshman high school student, he functions very well, though he continues to wrestle with some OCD (mostly scrupulosity). The antibiotics brought my son back from the edge, and there’s increasing evidence that PANDAS is not, in fact, “rare” at all. It probably takes a potent concoction of immune dysfunction (Crohn’s is an immune disorder, too, as you know), genetics and wiring to manifest PANDAS, but I would really encourage anyone who suffers from a disabling “mental” condition like OCD or Tourettes to look into the whole immunological side of the equation. It’s not fantasy, and it’s not rare; even Dr. Michael Jenike of the International Obsessive Compulsive Foundation has come to recognize that with regard to PANDAS (you can check out his position on the IOCDF web site). Skepticism is healthy, but dismissing emerging research by relying on dated opinions and findings is selling yourself and your options short. As Winston Churchill said, “Never, ever, ever give up.” Persistence pays off!

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