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Devastating new infection from ticks found in blood supply

Roz Zurko's picture

Babesiosis cases are on the rise, which is much like Lyme Disease, as it is contracted from a tick bite, this infection is going undiagnosed with concerns that it is being spread not only by ticks, but also in through the donated blood supply.

As if Lyme Disease wasn't enough to worry about when spending anytime outdoors in the warm weather, now a new disease is growing in numbers that is caused by the same insect that causes Lyme, a tick, according to the website Green Living. Lyme Disease is contracted from a tick bite and can be a debilitating disease and even fatal if left untreated. Now the tick bite is causing babesiosisnce. It is a potentially devastating infection that is gaining a foothold in the Northeast. Government researchers have found this disease is becoming more predominant, especially the Lower Hudson Valley and coastal areas of the Northeast.

Babesiosis results from infection with Babesia microti and causes a malaria like illness. This parasite lives in red blood cells and is carried by deer ticks. Though the disease is far less common than Lyme disease, babesiosis can be fatal, particularly in people with compromised immune systems. One of the concerns about the spread of this disease is through the blood supply. Without a widely used screening test for this disease, this is a threat to the blood supply. Sanjai Kumar, who is the chief of the laboratory of emerging pathogens at the Food and Drug Administration says, “We are very worried about it and are doing everything in our power to address this,” according to the NY Times.

The most recent report for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has seen a 20-fold increase in cases of babesisosis. In 2001, there were six cases of this disease reported in the Lower Hudson Valley. This jumped to 119 in 2008. This is particularly of concern in areas that see the greatest cases of Lyme Disease, because it is the same ticks that carry both babesisosis and Lyme. Coastal Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Long Island are the places where Lyme Disease is endemic.

Dr. Peter Krause, senior research scientist at Yale School of Public Health said it is in these areas that see Lyme Disease where babesiosis is also becoming very common. One study done on residents of Block Island R.I. showed that babesiosis to be just 25 percent less common than Lyme Disease. Other areas are seeing the spread of this disease, like the Upper Midwest, but to a slower degree, says Krause.

Many people will experience no symptoms at all, who are infected with the parasite, while others experience mild to moderate flu-like symptoms that may last for a few days or as long as six months. “But some people get so sick that they wind up hospitalized, put into an intensive care unit, or even dying,” said Dr. Gary Wormser, chief of infectious diseases at Westchester Medical Center in New York.

About 1000 cases of babesisosis are reported each year in the states that track this disease, but Krause believes that this is just a fraction of the people who are infected. In the Block Island study, 70 percent of the islanders were tested and about 25 percent of the adults and about 50 percent of the children, who were infected with this disease, had no symptoms at all and were not reported for that reason.

Babesiosis is currently not something that blood banks test for when people donate blood and experts fear that undiagnosed patients may be donating blood. This disease is already the most frequently reported infection transmitted through transfusion in the U.S.. It is also responsible for 12 deaths to people who were infected through a blood transfussion. One study showed that 30 percent of people who contracted babesiosis through a blood transfusion died.

With this disease symptoms can be vague, there is no rash as seen in Lyme Disease. Other than that, the symptoms can mimic Lyme Disease with, fever, sweats, chills, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches and pains. Doctors might suspect babesiosis in people who have Lyme Disease if the symptoms are severe or if the antibiotics are not working, said Krause. Again, many have no symptoms at all with this disease.

Babesiosis tends to cause moderate to severe symptoms in infants and adults over 50. People with compromised immune systems are also more at risk for complications of this disease. This would include people who have had their spleens removed, who have lymphoma or HIV, people receiving immunosuppressants and those being treated for cancer. If not caught early, this disease can lead to complications with the kidney, lungs or heart failure.

This disease is spreading slower than Lyme Disease and scientists are not sure why this is the case. One theory suggests that it is babesiosis is carried primarily by mice, which don't travel far afield. Lyme disease and borelia burgdorferi can be carried by birds, which would explain the large area that Lyme Disease is found in today.

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