Babesiosis linked to ticks

Parasitic infection now making a show in Connecticut

While most Connecticut residents worry about Lyme Disease from tick bites, a newer threat called babesiosis is now on the forefront. Babesiosis is a flu-like, sometimes fatal, parasitic infection that attacks a person's red blood cells.

This newly emerging infection can result in severe illness and even death for seniors, those with compromised immune systems and those with no spleen, say medical experts. Since it is the spleen that removes damaged red blood cells from the body, having no spleen means complications with this disease.

The Red Cross has officially banned all donors with diagnosed babesiosis from giving blood for life, according to doctors.

Ticks acquire the Babesia microti parasite from mice. Doctors are calling it an "under-diagnosed" disease that may have already infected hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the Connecticut area.

Babesiosis is most a problem during spring, summer and fall, and can be treated with clindamycin and quinine, both of which are also used to treat malaria. There are also some new antibiotics being developed to treat the disease. It is most prevalent in areas of the upper Midwest like Illinois, Michigan and the better part of New England. The areas now at highest risk for babesiosis are New York State, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The same tick can carry both babeosis and Lyme Disease, say doctors.

"It takes time for physicians to become aware of newly emerging diseases such as this," said Dr. Peter Krause of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. "Babesiosis may be more widely spread than is currently documented."

The Lyme Disease vaccine is not effective against babesiosis, according to medical experts.

Symptoms include loss of appetite, fever, chills, muscle pain, tiredness, sweats, and headache. These symptoms usually appear with one to six weeks after a tick bite. In fact, babesiosis is often mistaken for Lyme Disease, because the symptoms are so similar.

Fortunately, most people's immune systems are tough enough to withstand and vanquish the infection. However, those affected may suffer kidney failure, liver complications, low blood pressure, or hemolytic anemia (a breakdown of the red blood cells).