Superbug invades the brain

21.09.01: A BIZARRE outbreak of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has swamped psychiatric hospitals in Birmingham. Sufferers repeatedly wash their hands or check they have turned off lights or locked doors.

'In the past six months we have had more than 500 new OCD patients,' says Professor Arthur Fairbone of the area health authority.

Experts believe that the cause of this epidemic is a super-strain of streptococcus, a bug that normally lives harmlessly in our throats. Having developed resistance to all known antibiotics, it has been able to invade the brain.

The bacterium attacks cells in the caudate nucleus of the basal ganglia, which controls instinctive survival mechanisms such as grooming (hand-washing) and territorial imperatives (door-checking).

'From Pet scans we know that this region of the brain is hyperactive in people with OCD,' says Fairbone.

Infective OCD has been shown to respond to the insertion of tiny magnets into the brain to inhibit activity in the caudate nucleus. JB/RC

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