In many cases, babesiosis – a rare parasitic illness – is not fatal. Some individuals who are infected with babesiosis are even asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show any symptoms. But for a smaller subset of individuals, particularly those who are immunocompromised, babesiosis can be life-threatening. Understanding the signs and symptoms of babesiosis is important, especially as NBC News reports that cases are rising in various areas of the country; the Northeast has seen an especially significant uptick.
NBC News shares that the CDC recently published a report detailing the intricacies of babesiosis infection and spread within the United States. Between 2011-2019, 37 states reported babesiosis infections. 98.2% of cases came from ten states. The CDC explains that two of those states saw case numbers drop over those years, while the remaining eight saw increases.
More so, this tick-borne illness is now considered endemic in a total of 10 states. Endemic means that something is restricted to a certain area or that it is regularly found among people from a certain area. The states in which this illness is endemic are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Vermont saw a 17-fold rise in cases, with Maine recording a 34-fold rise.
What’s Responsible for the Spread?
Typically, tick-borne illnesses like babesiosis and Lyme disease are most common in warmer months. Climate change, and increasing humidity, may play a role in the growing rates of infection. This is partially because ticks are now surviving through the winter, which leads to heightened tick bites when spring arrives.
Next, deer tick populations have blossomed in new locations. This provides a greater reach for potential infections. Finally, people are beginning to move more towards wooded areas and nature to live. If you live in a similar area, you can still reduce your risk of babesiosis infection by wearing long pants and sleeves, avoiding long grass, and using tick repellant.
What is Babesiosis?
First identified in 1969, babesiosis is a rare, malaria-like disease spread through the bites of deer ticks that have been infected with Babesia, a microscopic parasite that infects red blood cells. It may also be spread from mother to child or through blood transfusions.
Up to 20% of children and 50% of adults with this illness show no symptoms. Symptoms may include:
- Fever and chills
- Excessive sweating
- Chest, hip, muscle, and joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count – more common in severe cases)
- Kidney failure (more common in severe cases)
For those who are asymptomatic, treatment is not necessary. Alternately, for those who need treatment, they are usually given a blend of antibiotics and antimalarials. In severe cases, exchange transfusion may be a treatment option. Unfortunately, babesiosis is still fatal in an estimated 1-2% of cases; in those who are immunocompromised, it may be fatal in up to 20% of cases.