Babesiosis Symptoms of Tick-Borne Diseases, Treatment as Cases Rise: CDC

Babesiosis is caused by tiny parasites that infect red blood cells and are spread by certain ticks.

  • People in eight states should know signs of another tick-borne illness as cases rise, the CDC said.
  • Babesiosis is caused by tiny parasites that infect red blood cells and are spread by certain ticks.
  • The disease can cause mild illness with no symptoms to severe illness with multi-organ failure.

People in eight states should know the signs of the tick-borne disease babesiosis as cases rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cases of babesiosis are on the rise in the Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont), and the disease is only endemic in three of those states (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) , according to a CDC report based on data collected between 2011 and 2019 from 10 states.

“Members of the public and health care providers in states with endemic babesiosis and neighboring states should be aware of the clinical signs of babesiosis and risk factors for Babesia infection,” the CDC said in the report published Friday.

The latest report comes amid a 25% rise in tick-borne illnesses in the U.S. overall, including Lyme disease, the CDC said. According to the CDC, the number of reported cases of babesiosis has increased from 40,795 in 2011 to 50,856 in 2019.

Babesiosis is usually spread by black-legged ticks

According to the report, most cases of babesiosis in the US are caused by tiny parasites spread by black-legged ticks, called Ixodes scapularis, in northeastern and midwestern states. People can also contract it through contaminated blood transfusions and organ transplants from infected donors. Babies can get it from mothers with babesiosis.

The disease, first identified in 1969 in Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, can cause mild illness with no symptoms to severe illness with multi-organ failure.

Dr. Peter Krause, a senior researcher at the Yale School of Public Health who was not involved in the CDC study, told NBC that the CDC report highlights “an unfortunate milestone in the rise of babesiosis in the US.”

“More cases means more disease, and some people are even dying,” he said. According to Kruse, the disease has an overall mortality rate of about 1% to 2%.

People who contract the disease through blood transfusions are more likely to die than those who get it from a tick bite, the CDC report said.

The severity of an infection also depends on a person’s immunity. For example, the condition is more likely to be life-threatening for those who are immunocompromised, including the elderly.

People without flu-like symptoms do not need treatment

People without symptoms usually don’t need treatment, but those with more severe disease can be treated with antimicrobial medications. Symptoms are often nonspecific and, according to the CDC, include: fever, muscle or joint pain, nausea, and headache.

According to a review on babesiosis published last year, after the parasite infects a person, it can take anywhere from one to six weeks for symptoms to show, and about 20% of adults and half of children who get the disease develop no symptoms .

There may be babesiosis in states where no cases are reported

The CDC said 37 states reported a total of 16,456 cases between 2011 and 2019, including 16,174 (98.2%) of the 10 states included in the analysis.

The CDC said the number of cases could be higher. That’s because not all states, such as Pennsylvania, register them, and people without symptoms often go untested. The data also doesn’t reliably reflect where a person contracted the disease, such as whether they traveled to a state, because cases are reported based on where a person lives.

“Individuals who spend time outdoors in states with endemic babesiosis should practice tick bite prevention, including wearing long pants, avoiding undergrowth and long grass, and using tick repellents,” the CDC said.

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