Move over, Lyme disease . According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , another dangerous tick-borne disease is burrowing its way through the Lower Hudson Valley and coastal areas of the Northeast. Far less common than Lyme disease but also carried by the diminutive deer tick , Babesiosis is caused by an infection from the parasite Babesia microti. It thrives in red blood cells and, for those with compromised immune systems, can be fatal.
In 2001, six cases of Babesiosis in Lower Hudson Valley were reported to the CDC. But 119 cases were reported in 2008. In areas such as coastal Connecticut, where Lyme disease is endemic, Babesiosis is becoming more common. But it can often be masked by Lyme-like symptoms. "Like Lyme disease, Babesiosis can cause low-grade fever and fatigue," says Dr. Michael Parry, director of infectious diseases and microbiology at Stamford Hospital . But unlike Lyme, he says, it isn't necessarily manifested with joint pains, cardiac symptoms or a rash. "It destroys red blood cells and can cause severe anemia, and its symptoms can resemble those of malaria," he says.
Particularly unnerving is that there is no systematic screening for it in standard blood analyses, which could threaten blood supplies. In fact, according to the CDC, Babesiosis is the most frequently reported infection transmitted through blood transfusion in the United States. "If we suspect the patient has Babesiosis we can test for it," says Parry. Otherwise, he says, blood samples are not routinely screened for the infection.
Manifestations of Babesiosis can differ from one patient to the next, with some people experiencing few if any signs and others suffering with flu-like symptoms for days or even months. But unlike Lyme disease, no alarm in the form of a glaring rash appears at the onset of Babesiosis. Parry says the condition is life threatening only when someone's immune system is already compromised, such as by cancer or HIV for example.
Other symptoms can include fever, chills, night sweats, headache and muscle aches and pains, as well as fatigue.
Babesiosis can lead to such complications as kidney, lung or heart failure if not detected early. Antimicrobial drugs are successful in treating it, however those with serious complications can be less responsive to medication.
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