Babesiosis is a rare tick-borne infection of the red blood cells, caused by a microscopic parasite called Babesia.
Most Babesia species are found in animals; only one, Babesia microti, has been found in infected humans.
Babesiosis occurs most often during warm months, in places where woods, grass, and brush are common.
Babesiosis is transmitted mainly through the bite of an infected deer tick, although the infection can also spread through blood donated by a person with asymptomatic Babesia infection.
People infected with babesiosis may have flu-like symptoms such as fever, alternate chills and sweats, headaches, body aches, fatigue, nausea and loss of appetite. Patients may not even show any symptoms at all.
Babesiosis is readily treated, but complications can develop, especially in the elderly and in patients whose immune systems are compromised or who may have other serious health problems.
Hemolytic anemia can develop, which can become jaundice. Blood pressure may become low and unstable; platelet count significantly reduced; blood clots or bleeding may occur; vital organs may malfunction – all of which may be fatal.
Treatment usually consists of a combination of an anti-parasitic drug with an antibiotic. Other drugs may be administered to treat the other symptoms. In severe cases, blood transfusions or dialysis may be done.
Prevention of babesiosis can be as simple as avoiding exposure to tick habitats. Light-colored clothing can be worn outdoors for easy tick detection, with as much skin covered as possible. The proper use of repellents on skin and clothing, with regular checks for ticks can also reduce the risk of infection.