Infection: A Mental Risk for Kids?


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Mental health disorders are the most common conditions in childhood. In fact, more than 17million kids in the United States have or have had a psychiatric disorder. A new study shows some of these problems could be due to an unlikely source.

One out of every five children experiences a mental health disorder in a given year.

Dayna Long, MD, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, explains, “Trauma and adversity is really a public health crisis at this point. What we’re seeing is that the vast majority of our families are under an immense amount of stress.”

A new study shows that there may be another culprit: infections! Researchers from Denmark found that children who had been hospitalized with an infection had an 84 percent increased risk of suffering a mental disorder and a 42 percent increased risk of being prescribed medicine for a mental disorder.

“We are learning a lot about what it means for a child to be under toxic stress,” Dr. Long continued.

In the study, infections were linked to a wide range of disorders such as OCD, Autism, ADHD, personality disorder, psychotic disorders, and more. Scientists suspect that the body’s inflammatory reaction that happens while fighting an infection can affect the brain. They say future research may offer more clues about this curious association.

Patients had more than a five times increased risk of developing a mental health problem in the first three months after being in the hospital for an infection.

Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Field Producer; and Dave Harrison, Editor

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BACKGROUND: Mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, causing distress and problems getting through the day. Among the more common mental disorders that can be diagnosed in childhood are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and behavior disorders. About 9.4% of children aged 2-17 years have received an ADHD diagnosis; 7.4% of children aged 3-17 years have a diagnosed behavior problem; 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed anxiety; and 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed depression. Having another disorder is most common in children with depression. About 3 in 4 children with depression also have anxiety and almost 1 in 2 have behavior problems. For children aged 3-17 years with anxiety, more than 1 in 3 also have behavior problems and about 1 in 3 also have depression. For children aged 3-17 years with behavior problems, more than 1 in 3 also have anxiety and about 1 in 5 also have depression.


INFECTIONS LINKED TO MENTAL ILLNESS: A nationwide study in Denmark suggests a link between infections in childhood and adolescence and increased risk of subsequent mental disorders. Researchers looked at treatment for childhood infections as well as mental health diagnoses and treatment. Infections requiring hospitalization were associated with an 84% increased risk of a mental disorder diagnosis and a 42% increased risk of psychotropic medication use, according to the study. Less severe infections treated in primary care were linked with a 40% increased risk of a mental health diagnosis and a 22% increased risk of psychotropic drug use. Antibiotics in particular were associated with higher risk. “The temporal correlations between the infection and the mental diagnoses were particularly notable,” said researcher Michael Eriksen Benrós, PhD, of the Psychiatric Centre Copenhagen at Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark, “as we observed that the risk of a newly occurring mental disorder was increased by 5.66 times in the first 3 months after contact with a hospital due to an infection and were also increased more than twofold within the first year.” These findings may “have a consequence for treatment,” Dr. Benrós said, “and the new knowledge can be used in making the diagnosis when new psychiatric symptoms occur in a young person.”


KETAMINE BREAKTHROUGH: For anesthesiologists, ketamine is a sedative for painful procedures. In the past few years, it has become a miracle psychiatric drug that works within hours. The ketamine for mental health story goes back as far as the 1980s, when neuroscientists examined the brains of people who had committed suicide. Since then, physicians have given the drug to thousands of depressed adults, including patients in eight successful clinical trials. But fewer have been willing to infuse the drug into the veins of minors. Yale School of Medicine is an exception. Adolescents who were previously ready to end their own lives became bright and hopeful. Psychiatry has never seen a drug intervention so powerful and fast-acting. While most anti-depressants take weeks to work and offer modest improvement, ketamine offers dramatic improvement in less than a day. Dr. Gerard Sanacora at Yale School of Medicine explained it like this, “We know high blood pressure causes all kinds of things: heart attacks, strokes, vision problems, and kidney diseases. We treat all of those with blood pressure pills. Ketamine may be the blood pressure pill of psychiatry — altering basic physiology [of neuronal connections]and having a wide range of beneficial effects.”


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