An infection called babesiosis, which is carried by the same deer ticks that spread Lyme disease, is on the rise in the coastal Northeast. The infection can be fatal, particularly in infants and those over 50.
In addition to being concerned about tick bites spreading the disease, public health officials are looking for ways to keep the blood supply safe so the infection is not spread by transfusion. The New York Times reports that a blood center in Rhode Island has become the first to use an experimental test to screen blood for the infection, following several infant deaths in the state in the past decade.
The New York Times article outlines what parents and the general public needs to know about babesiosis:
According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were six cases of babesiosis in the Lower Hudson Valley in 2001 and 119 cases in 2008, a 20-fold increase. In areas where Lyme disease is endemic, like coastal Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Long Island, babesiosis also is becoming very common, said Dr. Peter Krause, senior research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health.
In one study of residents of Block Island, R.I., Dr. Krause found babesiosis to be just 25 percent less common than Lyme disease. Babesiosis also is spreading slowly into other regions where it did not exist before, like the Upper Midwest, said Dr. Krause....
The symptoms can be vague (there is no tell-tale rash as there may be with Lyme disease) and include fever, sweats, chills, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches and pains. In people who also have Lyme disease, doctors might suspect babesiosis if the symptoms are particularly severe or the antibiotics are not working, said Dr. Krause. A diagnosis can be confirmed through blood testing....
If not caught and treated early, babesiosis can lead to such complications as kidney, lung or heart failure. The infection can be treated with antimicrobial medications, but people with serious complications are less responsive to the drugs.