Doctors warn strep infections can lead to mental illness

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Doctors Warn Strep Infections Can Lead to Mental Illness

MOORE, Okla. (KFOR) -- Every parent knows the symptoms of strep throat in children: fever, soreness, fatigue.

But, doctors are now warning about a rare disease caused by strep infections, which can lead to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

These children have a bizarre and devastating disease missed by most doctors.

They are often labeled mentally ill, autistic or bipolar with unusual fits of rage and paranoia.

"They could be four to five hours screaming rages on the floor kicking and screaming," said Amber Harper, whose seven-year-old daughter Grace suffers from this disease. "I've carried her out of restaurants kicking and screaming."

Photos of Harper and Grace:

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Strep throat -- Grace Harper
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Strep throat -- Grace Harper

Every parent knows the symptoms of strep throat in children: fever, soreness, fatigue.

But, doctors are now warning about a rare disease caused by strep infections, which can lead to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

These children have a bizarre and devastating disease missed by most doctors.

They are often labeled mentally ill, autistic or bipolar with unusual fits of rage and paranoia

"They could be four to five hours screaming rages on the floor kicking and screaming," said Amber Harper, whose seven-year-old daughter Grace suffers from this disease. "I've carried her out of restaurants kicking and screaming." 

For two years, the Harpers tried to unlock the mystery of Grace's uncharacteristic behavior.

They were in and out of the hospital with more than a dozen different doctors and specialists trying to figure out why their articulate, creative child morphed into a raging time bomb virtually overnight.

"She hit the doctor once," remembers Harper. "She was totally blowing up. She was out of control."

Doctors believe that strep bacteria triggers an abnormal immune reaction; proteins attack the area of the brain that controls behavior.

This enigmatic disease now known as PANDAS, short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep.

Dr. Amy Darter is the Medical Director at the Oklahoma Institute of Allergy, Asthma, Immunology, and an expert in the disease, PANDAS.

Research is still emerging because for years, doctors had no idea what was going on with these kids.

"These parents get so frustrated. They're like, 'Where'd my child go?'," said Dr. Darter. "An average, normal, everyday infection that humans are exposed to, in some people who are prone, can trigger this sort of response. You see a normal child. Then, an infection. And then you see a child you don't recognize as your own anymore. It hits that quickly, and it can be very profound."

PANDAS can cause paranoia and debilitating tics.

Kids who suffer from the disease can live tortured, paralyzed by their own withdrawal from normal life.

And the disease is a nightmare for the parents who have no idea what went wrong.

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For two years, the Harpers tried to unlock the mystery of Grace's uncharacteristic behavior.

They were in and out of the hospital with more than a dozen different doctors and specialists trying to figure out why their articulate, creative child morphed into a raging time bomb virtually overnight.

"She hit the doctor once," remembers Harper. "She was totally blowing up. She was out of control."

It started with recurrent fevers.

Grace would have a high fever every 28 days, and with each fever, her parents noticed something else. Grace developed obsessive compulsive behaviors.

For example, everything had to be in its exact spot, like crayons and shoes and toys, or little Grace would come unglued.

"I organize them because when they aren't organized, I get upset," said Grace Harper.

"Organizing" is her way of describing a rare form of psychiatric illness she caught during those repeated strep infections.

Doctors believe the strep bacteria triggers an abnormal immune reaction; proteins attack the area of the brain that controls behavior.

This enigmatic disease is now known as PANDAS, short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep.

Dr. Amy Darter is the Medical Director at the Oklahoma Institute of Allergy, Asthma, Immunology, and an expert in the disease, PANDAS.

Research is still emerging because for years, doctors had no idea what was going on with these kids.

"These parents get so frustrated. They're like, 'Where'd my child go?'," said Dr. Darter. "An average, normal, everyday infection that humans are exposed to, in some people who are prone, can trigger this sort of response. You see a normal child. Then, an infection. And then you see a child you don't recognize as your own anymore. It hits that quickly, and it can be very profound."

PANDAS can cause paranoia and debilitating tics.

Kids who suffer from the disease can live tortured, paralyzed by their own withdrawal from normal life.

And the disease is a nightmare for the parents who have no idea what went wrong.

RELATED: 20 mistakes that are making your home unhealthy:

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20 mistakes that are making your home unhealthy
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20 mistakes that are making your home unhealthy

1: Not Keeping a Barrier Between You and Your Bedding

Use zippered dust-proof casings for pillows and mattresses. The pore space of such casings is so small that dust mites and their waste products can't get through.

2: Vacuuming Without a HEPA Filter

Use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters to prevent tiny particles of dust from being blown back out into the air.

3: Forgetting to Change the Vacuum Filter

Changing the filter is an essential part of keeping dust out of the air and preserving the life of the machine. Change the filter once it's showing wear and tear or every six months if you're using a HEPA filter.

4: Forgetting to Change the AC Filters

Never run your heating or air conditioning system without filters, and be sure to change them at least every three months.

5: Not Ventilating Your Bathroom

Running the exhaust fan (and making sure it's vented to the outdoors) helps remove moisture from this naturally humid room.

6: Not Attending to Your Gutters

Leaky gutters can cause excessive moisture to enter your basement or crawl space. If you don't have covered gutters, frequent litter removal is a must year round.

7: Too Many Textiles in the Bedroom

Carpeting, rugs, pillows, upholstered headboards and chairs are all dust catchers. Consider minimizing furnishings for an easier-to-dust environment.

8: Too Many Textiles in Your Living Area

The living room is the same as a bedroom. Keep upholstery to a minimum to reduce the amount of dust mites.

9: Inviting Allergens Into Your Yard

Avoid plants that are wind-pollinated — grasses are among the worst pollen offenders.

10: Not Following Your Nose

If you detect a musty smell in your home, inspect closely until you find the source of the smell. The sooner you find the mold, the easier it will be to remove.

11: Not Organizing Your Home Office

Clutter can harbor a plethora of dust mites — this includes stacks of papers, old magazines and office equipment. File paper inside a cabinet to stay organized and keep dust away.

12: Wearing Shoes Inside the House

Not only is wearing shoes indoors a health risk, but it can also increase allergens. Wet leaves bring in mildew and pollutants from grass get trapped on the bottom of shoes. Take your shoes off outside, or put them in a washable tray as soon as you walk in the door.

13: Letting the Trash Pile Up

You could attract some unwanted guests (like mice and roaches) inside your home if you let your trash pile up. Their droppings can worsen your allergies, so make sure you stick to a routine of taking out the trash.

14: Displaying Houseplants

You may enjoy your beloved fern, but houseplants encourage mold growth. Mold spores live in warm, wet dirt, so limit the amount and time you display them.

15: Letting Your Pet Sleep in Your Bed

Your favorite part of the day may be snuggling up to your fur baby, but pet dander traps allergens — which means you're inviting those allergens to your bed. If you can't resist the cuddles, then you should completely shave your dog. Just kidding — just be sure to bathe them once a week.

16: Keeping the Temp Too High

Dust mites and mold love to live in warm climates. Keep your thermostat around 70 degrees to help keep them at bay.

17: Installing Wallpaper in the Bathroom

Patterned wallpaper is a beautiful addition to any room, but installing it in wet rooms (bathrooms and kitchens) can increase the risk of mildew. Opt for tile or textured paint that's mold-resistant.

18: Not Using the Exhaust Fan When Cooking

If you love cooking, all that steam from the stovetop will produce excess moisture. Turn the exhaust fan on to reduce it, helping to decrease the chance of mold.

19: Ignoring Your Bathmat

Think about it. You step onto your bathmat completely wet on the daily. To keep it fresh (and to keep mildew away), hang it to dry after every use, and stick it in the washer once a week.

20: Avoiding Protective Wear While Gardening

Even if you aren't highly allergic to pollen, it can still irritate your eyes, nose and throat. To prevent this, always wear a mask and gloves while working in the yard.

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PANDAS is the focus of a new documentary in production now called "My Kid Is Not Crazy."

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