TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Most people associate the word strep with strep throat. But imagine a strain of strep with side effects so shocking and dangerous that it leads to obsessive compulsive disorder.
Kids are actually catching OCD.
Kids who were once happy, healthy children are suddenly developing bizarre behavior.
Involuntary ticks and violent fits of rage are the dangerous side effects of PANDAS, a disorder brought on by strep.
"PANDAS is Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections," said Dr. Dean Klug, Mid-South Ear, Nose, and Throat.
"I wish I didn't have PANDAS," said Garrett Nass, 11, who developed a tic after fighting an ear infection at 5 years old.
"And he would do this and it would be like that every so often he would do that," said Catherine Nass, Garrett's mother.
More than two years and a multitude of behavioral tests later, doctors found a strep infection in his blood, even though he had never had strep throat.
"Instead of his antibodies attacking the strep, it was attacking his brain, which was causing the OCD and the tics," said Catherine.
PANDAS actually attacks the immune system, which wreaks havoc on the brain, often leading to a mis-diagnosis because PANDAS mimics many psychological disorders.
Children suffer for years before getting the proper treatment, which is aggressive antibiotic therapy, a protein blood infusion, or surgery.
"When they were treated with antibiotics, the behaviors diminished or actually disappeared," said Dr. Klug. "So there was felt to be a connection. And with repeated infections and with these disturbing behaviors, it was found that in many cases by getting the tonsils removed that these behaviors could be resolved."
Garrett will be on antibiotics until he is at least 21 years old.
"You look at him and you just, you just want to help him. There's nothing you can do," said Catherine.
PANDAS is popping up all around the Mid-South.
There are days when Bella Robinson of Tupelo cannot speak or walk.
In Jackson, Mississippi, Haley Clardy says her 10-year-old daughter Caroline seemed to be possessed by a demon.
"She tried to choke me driving down the road," said Clardy. "Said she wanted to kill herself, cut her head off."
Parents do not believe PANDAS is a rare disorder, but rather, rarely diagnosed because very few doctors are familiar with the symptoms.
"I have trouble understanding how doctors can not know about it," said Garrett's father, Mike. "It seems like it's been long enough to where the information is out there."
"And we just need somebody to get involved and say, 'Okay, we're going to help your children,'" added Catherine.
For now, these families want to share their stories in order to help other parents desperate to get their children back to normal.
"And to see your child come out of it and realize that they're back to who they should be, to who they want to be, is just such a joy. It's just wonderful," said Catherine.
"That would be a really cool thing to do, speak about PANDAS, speak about how to stop it how to keep it from happening," Garrett explained. "I want to help other people that have PANDAS."
Research shows the PANDAS disorder primarily affects pre-adolescent children.
Best advice, if you notice unexplained behavior overnight in your child, doctors say even something as simple as a child picking his skin or pulling his hair, you should see your doctor about a strep test. And make sure it is a blood test, not just a mouth swab.