Overview Of Babesiosis

Babesiosis is caused by an infestation of Babesia. These fall under the category of parasites known as piroplasms, and infect red blood cells. The most common species to infect humans is generally the tickborne Babesia microti. In addition to tick transmission, it is possible to pass babesiosis from an expectant mother to her fetus, or from a transfusion using tainted blood. However, at present, most blood banks do not screen for babesia.

Commonly Associated With

Redwater Fever

Causes Of Babesiosis

Babesiosis, as mentioned above, is an infection of the red blood cells caused by B. microti, due to transmission via ticks. In the United States, illness and parasites carried by ticks is more common during certain seasons, and in particular regions. Babesiosis tends to occur in the upper Midwest, and the Northeast, peaking during the warmer months.

Symptoms Of Babesiosis

Symptoms of babesiosis are very like those of Lyme disease, but babesiosis is more likely to start with high fever and chills.

Other symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Drenching sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Hip pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Shortness of breath/ “air hunger”

For most people, babesiosis may be very mild to asymptomatic. However, for the elderly, the immunocompromised, or lthose without a spleen, babesiosis can be very serious, even life-threatening. Complications may include renal (kidney) failure, liver issues, very low blood pressure, and severe hemolytic anemia (a breakdown of red blood cells).

Treatment Of Babesiosis

Because babesia is a parasite, it requires anti-parasitic drugs similar to those used to treat malaria. For mild to moderate cases, a doctor will give the patient Atovaquone plus azithromycin to take for 7 to 10 days. An alternative regimen is clindamycin plus quinine.

If the case is a severe one, azithromycin is given intravenously, and atovaquone is taken orally, or clindamycin is given intravenously with oral quinine. Additional supportive measures, such as blood transfusions, may be necessary.

It is possible to have relapses that will need further treatment. The most severe cases may need treatment for a longer initial period to clear the infection.

Other Information

Babesiosis can be quite difficult to diagnose.

In the early stages, it is possible to detect Babesia parasites by examining a blood sample under a microscope, but diagnosis by blood smear microscopy requires a great deal expertise and time. The blood smears can be negative if there is a very low level of parasitemia in the blood, especially very early on the disease. Testing may need to be repeated over several days.

If your doctor suspects babesiosis, they may order an indirect fluorescent antibody test (IFA) or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the blood sample.