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Home > Research Articles > Uf to Test If Mental Disorder, Strep Link Effects Suspected on Mind, Behavior

The Florida Times-Union

Saturday, October 19, 2002

The Florida Times-Union - October 17, 2002

Anecdotal reports have suggested a link between strep and the condition, best known for causing excessive hand-washing or ritualistic behavior.

Now, University of Florida scientists will use a National Institute of Mental Health grant to study how strep affects 240 children with the disorder.

Two groups will be compared, one in Florida where researchers will test monthly for the streptococcal infection and administer antibiotics. The other will be a control group at the government- funded institute in Maryland, where no monitoring or treating of strep infections will occur.

After five years, researchers will see where the disorder worsened or lessened.

"The main goal of the research is to look for a definitive association," said Wayne Goodman, the university's psychiatry department chairman leading the research.

One day the research could lead to preventive antibiotics for children with early signs of the disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder typically begins in childhood and affects 3.3 million adults in any given year, according to National Institute of Mental Health.

The institute's Susan Swedo developed the theory that strep- triggered antibodies attacking brains of a small fraction of patients may be linked.

"A connection, if proven, will provide a welcome change for children and their families, who've often heard the problem is all in their heads," Swedo said.

Meanwhile, parents shouldn't be alarmed if children develop strep throat, which is common in school-age children.

During peak season, one in three children will become infected at least mildly, Swedo said. The disorder affects about 1 in 100 children between 5 and 18 years old, researchers said.

The institute describes the disorder as containing two main features: recurrent, unwanted thoughts and rituals that are repeated to control the obsessive thoughts. It typically begins in childhood and progresses in adulthood.

Still, parents whose children have been diagnosed with strep infections should make sure they finish taking antibiotics, even if symptoms disappear, Swedo said.

If research confirms the link, it could lead to new treatment that combines antibiotics with psychotropic drugs now being used to treat the disorder, Goodman said.

Parents should not jump the gun and use antibiotics for obsessive- compulsive children, Goodman said.

"Some pediatricians and parents are already clued into this possibility, but we don't know yet whether giving antibiotics is a good idea."

Parents whose children are diagnosed with the disorder might want to ask a physician to test for strep then treat the infection if it turns up.

Another important aspect of the study is that it could provide more support for a growing notion that mental illnesses often have physical links, Goodman said.

"What is really interesting is that the research presents this bizarre condition as a complication of the infection."

More and more, psychiatric ailments are being connected with traditional medicine, Goodman said.

Staff writer P. Douglas Filaroski can be reached at (904) 359- 4509 or dfilaroski@jacksonville.com.

(C) 2002 The Florida Times-Union. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved