What is Babesiosis – Symptoms, Transmission and Cure

What is Babesiosis?

Babesiosis is a rare disease caused by the protozoan parasite Babesia, which is quite like the malaria parasite in its mode of action. The parasite Babesia is a microscopic tick which infects red blood cells. It exists in various forms and types. It can sometimes lead to death in severe cases.


Deer ticks

It is often accompanied by Lyme disease, which is another tick-borne disease, caused by parasites from the Ixodes genus. The ticks can thus be infected with the pathogens of both diseases, and when they are transmitted to humans, the latter end up suffering from more than one disease. Hence, while transmitting the human form of the disease, the ticks may also cause other tick-related ailments.

Who can be infected with Babesiosis?

The parasite can infect both humans and non-humans, depending on the form it displays. Dogs and cattles are sometimes affected by the parasite. As for humans, mostly anyone can get infected, but old people, people with their spleen removed and those with an inadequate immune system, such as those suffering from AIDS, are specially vulnerable to the disease, as opposed to otherwise healthy people.

The most common species known to infect humans is the Babesia microti.

How does Babesiosis infection occur?

Babesiosis is propagated through the bites of an infected deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. Infection gets across via transfusion of contaminated blood, and from mother to child during pregnancy or delivery.

red blood cells

Red blood cells inside of which the parasite reproduce

The parasites reproduce inside red blood cells. They can be detected inside the cells as cross-shaped substances in the insides of the cells. By the use of microscopes, the parasites can be spotted inside the blood cells, which is the basis of diagnosis. However, this may only be done in the first two weeks after infection. Other methods are used for more reliable detection: the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)  is used to detect the DNA of the parasite in human blood.

Symptoms of Babesiosis

  1. Fever
  2. Fatigue
  3. Hemolytic anemia
  4. Diarrhoea

Most of the times, no symptom appears for a while, hence difficult to diagnose. The symptoms may begin to show 8 weeks after infection. At other times, it takes even longer for the signs to show. On the other hand, in other cases, it may take one week’s time to have symptoms.

It has not been documented whether infection leads to immunity.

Treatment for Babesiosis

A combination of quinine and clindamycin can be taken to be relieved from the influence of the parasite. At other times, a different combination is taken: atovaquone and azithromycin.

Treatment may last for several months.

Prevention is better than cure!

Checking for ticks after possible exposure helps to reduce the possibility of getting eventually infected after visiting a tick habitat. If this is done within 24 hours, the risk becomes negligible. The ticks are removec by clasping the mouthparts of the ticks with tweezers. Care should be taken to avoid breaking the tick’s body for fear of splashing its body fluids which may carry infectious substances. After removal, disinfect the spot where it bit and wash hands. If you are not sure of having removed all ticks, seek medical assistance.

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