an easy way to have your kid grow up to be like me

According to a story in today’s New York Times magazine, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder might be something that, like a cold, can be caught. Here’s how the article begins:

To suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, many patients say, is to ”know you are crazy.” Other forms of psychosis may envelop the sufferers until they inhabit the delusion. Part of the torture of O.C.D. is, as patients describe it, watching as if from the outside as they act out their obsessions — knowing that they are being irrational, but not being able to stop. They describe thoughts crowding their minds, nattering at them incessantly — anxious thoughts, sexual thoughts, violent thoughts, sometimes all at the same time. Is the front door locked? Are there germs on my hands? Am I a murderer if I step on an ant? And they describe increasingly elaborate rituals to assuage those thoughts — checking and rechecking door locks, washing and rewashing hands, walking carefully, slowly and in bizarre patterns to avoid stepping on anything. They feel driven to do things they know make no sense.

There are researchers who believe that some of this disturbing cacophony — specifically a subset found only in children — is caused by something familiar and common. They call it Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated With Streptococcal Infection, or, because every disease needs an acronym, Pandas. And they are certain it is brought on by strep throat — or more specifically, by the antibodies created to fight strep throat…

I’m kind of a snob when it comes to OCD, so I don’t know how I like the idea that just anyone can join the club by getting a sore throat at the right time. It seems unethical. Recently, I read that contestants in the Ms. Handicapped USA pageant were incensed when it was discovered that the winner, a woman who competed in a wheelchair, could in fact still walk with the assistance of crutches, in spite of the fact that she was suffering from ALS. I suspect that I’d react much the same way if, in competition for the title of “Most Obsessive,” I found out that I was up against a kid who, if not for the fact that his mom sent him out without a jacket one cold and rainy day, wouldn’t be there. (And, I should add, I’m quite convinced that mine was hereditary (and thus more legitimate.) You can see it hanging from my family tree like giant clumps of swamp moss from a thousand yards away.

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  1. chris
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I, unfortunately, know PANDA intimately. My son was completely and totally wacked out for two months…motor tics, sensory input seeking and near speechless, when I found that he had severe strep throat. After antibioics he was back to his old self (still a far cry from normal) within two weeks. Although, the antibiotics do not come without their side effects. The weird thing about strep is that many children show no external symptoms and parents think the child is just acting out.

  2. chris
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    By the way, genetic influence triggered by environmental factors are not without precedence in the realm medical science. So yes, children suffering from Pandas may be genetically predisposed to OCD. Much like some of the working arguments behind environmental causation linked to breast and lung Cx.

    I do not know why science (really just MDs, and old ones at that) always demands on seperating these two things (genetics/environmental causation).

  3. mark
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    As much as I enjoy having OCD, I think it would be really cool if I could just get strep and be done with it… Too bad it doesn’t work in that direction.

  4. kez panel
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    I’ve grown to accept and live in extreme comfort with my OCD. Meds help, but in all honesty I really don’t need them…. Who the fuck am I kidding… there are some days I can’t even get out of bed for fear of being discovered as a fake. I don’t deserve to be happy. I obsess over every decision I make…. over and over and the fear of someone questioning me sends me into panic attacks and inverted rage. I feel guilty if I’m having fun or feel pleasant. There are days I have to leave the grocery store so quickly with my full-loaded cart behind, just to get away from people. Those are the days I usually sleep on the floor, under the kitchen table. The idea of these thoughts and obsessions being brought on by a strep infection is total bullshit, for I am one to gargle with gasoline and smoke cigars to rid me of these insane and irrational nightmares.

  5. Posted May 24, 2005 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Thank God I got strep way back before you could develop OCD from getting it. I used to get strep every single freaking year – and the accompanying penicillin shot into the “hip.”

  6. arun
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    mark, considering your consternation over the creation museum near your hometown, i feel i must tell you about a new theory about germs causing diseases that is supplanting the notion that one can merely be sent outside without a jacket on a cold and rainy day and become sick.

  7. ChelseaL
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 11:12 am | Permalink


    I have to object to the article’s line about “other forms of psychosis.” This is patently wrong. As I’ve told you, OCD is not even a mental illness. It is a neurological disorder with a psychological component. I have this from the OC clinic at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA (OK, it *is* a psych hospital) and my own therapist (an expert in behavior therapy for OCD). I checked this out carefully while researching the sidebar to my essay on the subject, for the New York Daily News.


  8. ChelseaL
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    P.S. I agree with you that the strep throat thing is nonsense. I don’t think responsible researchers or doctors give it any credence.

    P.P.S. Let’s found an online museum of egomania. We can start with Creation Guy.

  9. Tony Buttons
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    My OCD started with a stubbed toe. How’d the rest of you get yours?

  10. chris
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    OK, OK…I do not think my son has OCD. And maybe even, that the “OCD” they describe is not the OCD that is defined in the DSM-IV. However, I do know that there is a subgroup of the population who when having strep throat do indeed have perseverative behaviors, and motor tics. WHY? I don’t know. Maybe just the mere fact that a child is extememly sick will make them act oddly, even exaggerating OC behavior that they may subtley already have.

    Speaking from personal experience, as the parent of a “neurodiverse” (we need euphamisms at times) child, I will not exclude any avenue of promise/explanation even if in the end we ultimately find it is a cul-de-sac.

    And tell me, who of you out there, when your child begins to obsess about something more than you are comfortable with, won’t bring them in to see a doctor or at least take a look-see down their throat?

  11. chris
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Also, I do apologize if my initial post in any way minimized or offended any of the readers with OCD. It was never my intention.

  12. Teddy Glass
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I got OCD by sitting on a toilet seat.

  13. chris
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 7:24 pm | Permalink


  14. john galt
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

  15. john galt
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    see above link

    “Say “hi” to Sexual Harassment Panda!” — Mr. Garrison
    “Hi, Sexual Harassment Panda.” — The class
    “Did you know that when one little panda pulls on another little panda’s underwear, that’s sexual harassment? That makes me a sa-a-a-a-ad panda” — Sexual Harassment Panda
    “This is freaking me out, dude.” — Kyle [to Stan]
    “And when one little panda puts his furry little willy in another panda’s ear, that makes me a very sad panda. Now, I’m going to pass out these booklets, and we’re going to go through each and every sexual harassment law.” — Sexual Harassment Panda
    “Awwww!” — The class

  16. Posted May 24, 2005 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    The possible strep throat connection is intriguing and mysterious. I think Chris was lucky to make the connection when his son was exhibiting symptoms that must have been very distressing to a parent, not to mention his son.

  17. chris
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Laura, they were (distressing that is).-Chris ps-I’m a mommy chris not a daddy chris

  18. Posted May 24, 2005 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Oops, sorry, Chris, didn’t mean to mix that up. It’s disturbing to think of how far-fetched that connection is & how easily such symptoms could go misdiagnosed by other concerned moms. I’m glad you intuited the connection.

  19. mark
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Let’s just assume that we’re all men from now on. It’ll make things easier.

    As for OCD, I’m tired of mine. If someone want it, they can have it.

  20. ChelseaL
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    I posted before reading Chris’s comments. In light of them, I’m sorry I said the strep connection was nonsense. It isn’t something I’ve seen or experienced, so I can’t really know.

  21. tam
    Posted June 4, 2007 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    2 weeks ago my son threw back his head repeatedly. When I asked him what was up he said his throat hurt. Then his hands came up by the end of the day he had this tic. He threw back his head and brought up his hands all in a smooth then sort of anap. He also had a fever and sore throat. He then started clearing his throat a lot. Over the next couple of days he had nightmares and huge tantrums where he would lay on the ground and scream about one thing. He is afraid to sleep alone. He was diagnosed with Strep throat when his ear got infected on Friday.
    Because his brother is autistic, the first Dr. we saw on Tuesday said the tics where from autism and that there was no such thing as PANDA.
    I said “Panda? What’s Panda? He looked down my sons throat and said- No No strep.” So My son didn’t get anti-biodicts for 5 days.
    After all the searching I’ve done on the Web, I’m scared for my son. If PANDA, does exsist, each time he gets the infection, the tics, OCD, or tourettes could geet worse. He already has severe allergies and asthma and probably autism.
    So anyway…
    another MOM looking for support and answers and I wouldn’t wish any of this on anyone.

  22. mark
    Posted June 4, 2007 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear about your son and what he’s going through. Unfortunately, I know absolutly nothing about PANDA. I’d do a internet search for you, but I’m sure you’ve already done that. The only advice I have, and you may have already thought of this, is to take him to a research hospital, like one tied to a state university. My experience has been that often times they’re more willing to spend the time necessary to find out what’s wrong… Best of luck.

  23. Gary
    Posted May 3, 2008 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Not an expert on PANDAS — but (my understanding) it is not a case of simply getting strep throat — one must be genetically disposed to the devastation that follows — the attacking antibodies seeking to go after streptococci bacteria but instead wreaking damage upon the basil ganglia and thus bringing about either temporary or permanent damage.

    OCD is clearly a neurological disorder in most if not all cases. 30 years ago, no doctor had a clue about PANDAS — it’s expected that many doctors still do not. Because it is so rare, there will always be doctors ignorant of PANDAS. Even today many doctors and nurses really don’t have much of an understanding of OCD.

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