On June 20, 2011, The New York Times published an article, “Once Rare, Infection by Tick Bites Spreads” by Laurie Tarkan; bravely presenting evidence that shows the alarming spread of Babesiosis (Babesia – a malaria-like parasite that attacks the red blood cells, and has been considered by many of us to be a common co-infection of Lyme disease.)
Finally the extraordinary mystery surrounding the wide range of differing symptoms and intensity of various symptoms have been set under the umbrella of Babesia microti (although there could be many different and as of yet unlabeled variations of the parasite) while only months ago, and today in some hospitals, Babesiosis was only considered if the symptoms were life threatening. My own primary care doctor told me five years ago – in spite of my symptoms – that I wasn’t sick enough to have Babesiosis.
Not surprisingly, the fatalities were always in the spotlight, and it has not been until recently with the release of some new studies that more is being understood about Babesiosis, and more in depth questions being brought to the fore.
The CDC recently announced that there has been a twenty-fold increase in Babesiosis between 2001 and 2008 – in only seven years! Another study on Block Island showed that Babesiosis is only 25% less common than Lyme disease in the 70% of islanders tested. Even more alarming is that one quarter of the adults, and one half of the children that tested positive for Babesiosis showed no symptoms at all!
These frightening results affect our society on so many levels, many of which are immediately obvious. Thankfully government officials are not closing their eyes like they have with Lyme disease but have immediately considered the ramifications concerning the nation’s blood supply. As you may or may not know, blood banks do not screen blood for Lyme and/or the many co-infections including Babesiosis.
Additionally, it appears that contracting Babesiosis from blood transfusions is more likely to end in fatality according to a study by the American Red Cross – 30% of those infected through infusions died.
The good news is that more effort is being made to find a reliable screening tool to discover these pathogens as soon as possible. The Rhode Island Blood Center has become the first in the country to use an experimental new test to screen blood for the parasite which will hopefully develop into a blood test for those of us trying to find a diagnosis for our mysterious disease symptoms. The pressure is definitely on.