Israeli Study: Strep Throat Could Trigger Brain Disorders


kid-strep-throatThe Strep throat infection that keeps many young kids home in bed could trigger brain disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) if left untreated, according to researchers at an Israeli university.

Their conclusion: It is crucial for parents to get prompt medical treatment for children who show signs of strep throat, which include severe and sudden sore throat without cold symptoms; pain or difficulty with swallowing; and fever of higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

Strep can lead to brain dysfunction

Prof. Daphna Joel and a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Psychology, set out to see whether a long-held suspicion of a link between strep and impaired motor and mental function could be proven. It was already well known that untreated childhood strep throat can lead to chronic heart and joint problems.

The bulk of the research was conducted by Joel’s doctoral student, Lior Brimberg, in collaboration with Prof. Madeleine W. Cunningham of the University of Oklahoma. Cunningham is the world’s leading specialist in strep-related heart disease. Joel and Brimberg exposed rats to the strep bacteria, compared them to a strep-free control group, and measured differences in behavior.

As the researchers described at the 13th Congress of the European Federation of Neurological Societies in Italy, the strep-exposed rats developed balance and coordination difficulties, along with compulsive behaviors such as increased and repetitive grooming. These symptoms are typical of OCD, which is characterized by recurrent intense obsessions and/or compulsions that may cause severe discomfort, anxiety and stress.

“We were able to show that [strep] antibodies are binding to receptors in the brain and changing the way certain neurotransmitters operate, leading to brain dysfunction and motor and behavioral symptoms,” Joel reports.

New approaches to diagnosis and treatment

The study could form the basis for finding new ways to diagnose and treat OCD, which affects up to two percent of all children and adolescents in the United States. Strep-induced OCD is of particular concern in the developing world, where the bacterial infection is rarely treated adequately, Joel adds.

The findings also provide a promising education platform for preventing OCD and other related disorders from ever developing, despite a still incomplete understanding of the mechanism underlying the link between strep and brain dysfunction in children.

“Almost all of us, even very young children, have been exposed to the bacterium at one time or another,” says Joel, “But childhood seems to provide a distinct window of opportunity for the disorder to take root through strep infection.”



  1. It can also lead some children who are exposed to strep to suffer from PANDAS. The child suffers irrational fears and/or tics and other OCD behavior. Dr. Suzy Shulman in Boro Park has done research on the subject and is a leading expert on this issue.

  2. strep throat infection if not treated could cause rheumatic fever can cause irreversible damage to brain, heart, and other major organs!!

  3. Yitz, what does PANDAS stand for besides cute bear-like creatures from China. Note to all, if you must use acronyms, please explain that they mean.

  4. Yes. It’s true. If your normally well-adjusted child starts to act differently, you should rule out PANDAS as a problem.

    Pandas stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Strep. PANDAS is an autoimmune susceptibility to strep. I think antibodies from strep mistakenly attack the base of the brain, causing inflammation of the brain, leading to symptoms such as OCD or (in my daughter’s case) anxiety.
    My daughter became quite anxious and almost had panic attacks at the young age of 10. She kept on telling us she felt many other symptoms that we couldn’t explain – we went for MRI’s EEG’s which BH came back normal. At the same time she kept on getting strep. Our local pediatrician did not see the connection. After much research, I came across Pandas.
    Although in Lkwd, we were referred to Dr. Shulman who prescribed antibiotics (long & short term) which B”H cleared up the strep and other symptoms within a few months.
    We are grateful.

  5. What is the most reliable test for PANDAS?

    If a child suffers from yeast infections and has PANDAS…what would be the alternative treatment since antibiotics feed yeast?