Researchers study rare disorder in children

September 4, 2011

"All of a sudden he would sit in the corner or he would crawl under a table and he wouldn't come out," said Severn Falcone.

Dante also began obsessively washing his hands.

"When you looked at his hands they were almost bloody, they were so raw from being washed," said Falcone's mother.

It got worse to the point where he became suicidal. That's when his mother took him to numerous doctors.

Shortly thereafter, Dante was diagnosed with PANDAS. It stands for Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatrc disorders associated with streptococcal infections.

Dante had a strep infection just before his symptoms started.

Researchers like Dr. Josephine Elia say the theory behind PANDAS is that the antibodies formed to fight strep mistakenly interact with brain chemicals, causing obsessive compulsive behavior, anxiety, tics and other problems.

This rare diagnosis is controversial as it has not been fully proven.

"We're still at the very preliminary stages of understanding this condition but does it exist? Without a question," said Dr. Elia from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Elia says it may not just be strep but other bacteria that can also spark the disorder.

Dante, now a teenager, was treated with both antibiotics and behavioral therapy as a child and has fully recovered.

He still takes antibiotics to ward off future infections, which is also considered controversial.

Taking antibiotics long term can lead to resistance, but pediatrician Dr. Hal Gordon sympathizes with parents.

"Once you see the symptoms, the effect it has on your child and the pain they are in, you want to do everything you can to prevent that from happening again," said Gordon.

Dante's mom does worry about him being on long-term antibiotics but she also says the treatment gave her son his life back.

"It was almost like day and night," said Falcone.

Doctors say, another problem is that not all physicians are aware of the disorder.

Dr. Elias says research has prompted new treatments but much more work is needed to make it a recognized disorder and have set out guidelines.

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