Fb. In. Tw. Be.

About Us            Advertise            Contact Us

07 Feb, Tuesday
0° C
Image Alt

Montreal Families

PANDAS – mom raises awareness about bizarre illness

It started out as a typical weekday in September 2012. Kelly O’Donnell was getting her children ready for school, making breakfast and tidying up before hustling them out the door. She had noticed her 7-year-old daughter Annie (not her real name)  seemed uncharacteristically irritable; everything her sister said or did ticked her off.

That evening at her swimming lesson, Annie repeatedly looked over her shoulder, which her parents thought was a bit strange. The following morning, this new tic intensified; Annie was now involuntarily looking over her shoulder every 30 seconds. It upset her enough that she asked her mom if she could stay home from school. O’Donnell was reluctant because Annie didn’t have any symptoms of a traditional illness like a fever, stomach ache or rash, and she figured things would just settle down.

They didn’t. Instead, the symptoms became worse and a teacher notified the parents of their daughter’s strange behaviour. When Annie arrived home, she was a changed child. She was repeating words as well as tapping and rubbing things – chairs, tables, couches, whatever – and apologizing profusely to objects and people she thought she was bumping into. The rituals worsened over the evening, and O’Donnell finally gave Annie a Gravol just to get her to sleep.

The next morning, O’Donnell took Annie straight to the emergency room. After hearing about the symptoms, the doctors suggested a strep test. O’Donnell was confused: her daughter was showing signs of all kinds of compulsive behaviour, not suffering from a sore throat and fever.

When the strep test came back positive, the doctors explained that Annie had developed a disease called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections (PANDAS). Children with this condition develop obsessive-compulsive behaviours or Tourette-like symptoms following a strep throat infection. It is believed that this autoimmune condition occurs when the antibodies that are formed to fight strep, actually attack the brain instead. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms can happen virtually overnight and can include moodiness, irritability and separation anxiety, as well as tics and obsessions. The term PANDAS was coined less than 20 years ago and there isn’t a consensus in the medical community as to whether it is a rare or under-diagnosed condition.

Francisco Noya, a doctor who specializes in respiratory health and immunity at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, says in order to diagnose someone, the onset of OCD-like symptoms or tics must be abrupt and happen in children aged 3 to 14. As well, the strep infection and the onset of OCD-like symptoms can’t be too far apart. Noya adds that the condition is rare: while he has had four suspected PANDAS patients referred to him, none met the criteria for the disease.

Once a diagnosis has been given, families must then grapple with how best to treat the disease. Effective treatment is still being researched, with experts trying to determine if children should be treated with long-term, low-dose antibiotics. However, the standard recommendation is to have a child followed by a cognitive-behavioural therapist to learn tools for managing the obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some children are also prescribed anti-obsessional medications.

Annie, who is now 9 years old, has been working with a psychologist to manage the obsessive behaviour and was also given an antibiotic at the onset. O’Donnell, who is a nutritional consultant, said she also changed her daughter’s diet. “We worked really hard to help her build a really strong immune system.”

Her daughter hasn’t experienced a full-blown episode of PANDAS in almost 18 months.

Now, O’Donnell is trying to raise awareness of this condition by running a website, Pandas Canada, and a Facebook page that are resources for Canadian parents. It’s one step towards making sure families don’t have go through what O’Donnell and Annie did: days of confusion and fear until a proper diagnosis was made. 

Post tags:
You don't have permission to register