Ticks are creatures that can cause a host of health issues (not just Lyme disease). Now a new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the tick-borne disease babesiosis has spread rapidly over the past decade, giving more reason than ever to be aware of the parasite and the diseases it carries. It is therefore natural to wonder about the causes, treatment and prevention methods of babesiosis, so that you can protect yourself and others from the harmful disease.
THE CDC report demonstrated trends in reported babesiosis cases. Data showed that between 2011 and 2019, the incidence of babesiosis in the United States increased significantly in northeastern states. A total of 16,456 cases of babesiosis have been reported to the CDC from 37 states. New York has reported the highest number of cases (4,738), followed by Massachusetts (4,136) and Connecticut (2,200). The three states with the highest reported incidences were Rhode Island (18.0 per 100,000 population in 2015), Maine (10.3 in 2019), and Massachusetts (9.1 in 2019).
“Three states (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) that were not considered to have endemic babesiosis had significantly increased incidences and reported case numbers similar or higher than the seven states with known endemic transmission,” concluded The report. . Due to these alarming findings, tick prevention and traveler awareness are of the utmost importance.
Babesiosis isn’t particularly new, but it has shown gains in both case numbers and recognition, says David Cennimo, MD, infectious disease expert and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “It’s a tick-borne disease caused by a parasite (Babesia) that infects red blood cells.” He notes that babesiosis has often been referred to as “American malaria.”
This tick-borne disease isn’t just spreading now, says Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health and Security. “[Babesiosis] has still spread, but it appears to be impacting a larger geographic extent than was once thought to be largely limited,” he explains. “This may be the result of greater awareness, more testing, and a change in the habitat of the required tick or the deer the tick is associated with.”
Symptoms of Babesiosis
Once infected, a patient’s symptoms can range from mild illness to severe sepsis, especially in people who are immunocompromised or have liver dysfunction, says Dr. Cennimo. “The clinical presentation is usually fever and mild flu-like illness. But severe cases can experience severe anemia, organ failure, and even death. However, Dr Adalja says many infected people are asymptomatic.
You may also develop the following symptoms, according to the CDC:
- Loss of appetite
Babesiosis can also cause hemolytic anemia, which is the destruction of red blood cells. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, these symptoms can include:
- Heart palpitations
- Pale skin
- A larger than normal spleen or liver
- Pain in the back and abdomen
Symptoms can start within a week, but can also take months to show up.
Causes of Babesiosis
People are usually infected by the bite of a blacklegged tick, otherwise known as a deer tick, which is infected with the parasites, says Dr. Cennimo. “It’s the same tick vector that carries Lyme disease. So if you live in a Lyme risk area, you may be in a Babesia risk area.
While infection via tick bite is the most common way to contract the disease, Dr. Adalja notes that, rarely, people can also develop babesiosis through a blood transfusion or organ transplant from an infected person.
The most common way to treat babesiosis is with a course of antibiotics. However, not all antibiotics will work for everyone. Dr Adalja says a combination of atovaquone and azithromycin is the mainstay of treatment, but clindamycin plus quinine can also be used. “In severe cases, exchange transfusions of red blood cells can be used,” he explains.
Prevention of Babesiosis
People can avoid babesiosis, as well as other tick-borne diseases, by avoiding tick bites, Dr. Cennimo says. He advises people to use tick repellent and check regularly for ticks after spending time outdoors. “Also, as we have warmer winters, ticks become active all year round, so the risk period must be reconsidered. »
Magdalene, Preventionassociate editor of , has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD and her personal research at university. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience — and she helps strategize for success across Preventionsocial media platforms.