CDC warns of tick-borne disease babesiosis

July 13, 2012 at 1:06 AM
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ATLANTA, July 17 (UPI) -- The tick that spreads Lyme disease also spreads babesiosis, a malaria-like parasitic disease reported in 1,100 cases in 2011, U.S. health officials say.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said people living in or traveling to the Northeast and upper Midwest this summer should protect themselves by avoiding tick-infested areas, apply repellent, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors, shower after being outdoors and check their entire bodies for ticks.

Seven states -- Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin -- account for most of the reported cases of babesiosis, a CDC report said. Some states do not report babesiosis.

"Babesia infection can range from asymptomatic to life threatening. Symptoms include fever, influenza-like symptoms and anemia. Babesia parasites are usually tick-borne but they also are transmissible via blood transfusion," the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said. "For 2011, the CDC was notified via National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System of 1,124 cases of babesiosis: 847 classified as confirmed cases and 277 as probable cases."

Babesiosis can be life-threatening especially to people without a spleen, the elderly, or the immune suppressed. Babesia microti is transmitted by the bite of an infected ticks, typically when they are in the nymph stage, about the size of a poppy seed, the CDC said.

"Most asymptomatic persons do not require treatment. Treatment decisions should be individualized, especially for patients who have, or are at risk for, severe or relapsing infection. For sick patients, babesiosis usually is treated for at least seven to 10 days with a combination of two prescription medications -- atovaquone, an anti-protozoal, plus azithromycin or clindamycin -- both antibiotics -- plus quinine," Dr. Dana M. Woodhall of the Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria at the Centers for Disease Control, told United Press International.

"Clindamycin plus quinine is typically used for severely ill patients. Healthcare providers may consult CDC staff about whether to treat someone who has babesiosis, what type/types of therapy to use, how to monitor the status of the infection, and how long to treat via our inquiry line."

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