The next time you shake hands or turn a doorknob, you may catch the germ that causes obsessive-compulsive disorder. A new study from Columbia University links throat infections to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s syndrome and tic disorder.
OCD has two main traits: obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. The thoughts trigger anxiety, and the actions taken are to reduce the anxiety. The actions are usually compulsive, repetitive, and ritualistic.
Common obsessions include an overwhelming concern with dirt and germs, the need for exactness in dressing and grooming, and the hoarding of everything from old newspapers to money. Common compulsions include excessive cleaning, repetition of special prayers or words, and ritualized eating habits.
Famous men who suffer from OCD include Donald Trump, who is terrified of germs and avoids shaking hands (especially with teachers), and athlete David Beckham, who insists on lining up his shirts according to color. Famous women include Jennifer Love Hewitt, who says she cannot go to sleep if any cabinet doors or closets are open, and Cameron Diaz, who fears germ-laden doorknobs so much she opens them with her elbows.
It turns out that people who fear such things as dirty doorknobs may be on the right track after all, since touching doorknobs, shopping cart handles, etc., is a sure way to pick up germs like strep throat bacteria. The researchers at Columbia University found that injecting mice with strep throat germs soon led to the same kind of OCD and tic disorders seen in some children. OCD, in fact, usually begins in early childhood or adolescence, affecting males and females equally.
When antibodies were taken from the mice that had developed OCD behavior and injected into healthy mice, the behavior was replicated. The theory is that antibodies created by the body to fight the strep germs find their way to the part of the brain that controls compulsions and anxiety, affects it adversely, and triggers OCD. In other words, OCD may possibly be caught and may not be a purely psychological condition.
“These findings illustrate that antibodies alone are sufficient to trigger this behavioral syndrome,” said Columbia researcher Mady Hornig, MD. “They may also have implications for understanding, preventing or treating other disorders potentially linked to autoimmunity, including autism spectrum, moods, attentional, learning, and eating disorders.”
OCD Facts: OCD affects roughly 2.3 percent of all Americans, and people who suffer from it are generally of above-average intelligence.