PANDAS: Strep infection causes mental illness?

FRESNO, Calif.

Madeline Greenstein is back to being a happy, outgoing six-year-old.

"She's kind of like the life of the party," Megan Greenstein, Madeline's mom told Action News.

But just a year ago, three strep infections in three months, led to some strange behavior.

"She would start asking me questions. And I would have to answer them in a specific way, so are you going to leave? Is dad going to leave? Where are you going? Are you going to die? Is daddy going to die," Megan recalled.

Her anxiety turned into constant fear-

"I think about scary stuff and then I get scared," Madeline Greenstein said.

Within two months-

"Crying hysterically over nothing. High pitch laughing like what you would hear in a mental institute," Megan said.

Maddie was suffering what's called PANDAS believed to be caused by a strep infection.

"The key is the psychiatric symptoms just start overnight." Michael a. Jenike, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical school told Action News.

Dr. Michael Jenike says the body's immune system usually makes antibodies to attack the infection, but with PANDAS, the antibodies seem to attack part of the brain. That can lead to the sudden onset of OCD, separation anxiety, anorexia, bed-wetting, tics, or the worsening of motor skills and handwriting. "I now hear and see patients all the time who have these kinds of sudden onset illnesses. We put them on antibiotics and the illnesses clear up in a week or two," Dr. Jenike said.

Without antibiotics-

"This could be a trouble throughout their whole life," Dr. Jenike said.

Maddie started taking antibiotics and the results were immediate.

"I feel like we're on our path to recovery," Megan said.

It's a path she's thrilled to be on.

Because PANDAS is just starting to be understood, it is not known how many children have developed psychiatric illnesses because of it. For more information on PANDAS visit

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