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Babesiosis Causes Death In Transfusion Cases

January 19, 2009

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received nine reports of deaths since 2005 caused by blood transfusion due to a parasitic infection known as babesiosis.

Babesiosis, stemmed from the parasite Babesia, can be transmitted through a tick bite, the same tick that causes lime disease. However, transmission via blood transfusion has been reported to be a cause as well. This disease is hardest on the elderly and people with weak immune systems.

Dr. Diane M. Gubernot at the FDA in Rockville, Maryland, and colleagues advise that doctors should consider babesiosis in immunocompromised patients fever with a history of recent transfusion.

Gubernot and colleagues ask the FDA for safety surveillance systems for trends in babesiosis reporting since 1997.  They uncovered nine deaths between 2005 and 2008, and the patients ranged from 43 to 88 years of age.

Those patients showed signs of altered mental status, developed kidney failure, or respiratory distress, with symptoms appearing anywhere from 2.5 to 7 weeks following blood transfusion. When the symptoms developed, death followed within 5 to 17 days.  The blood donations were identified, and all donors tested positive for the infection.

The number of reports of potential transfusion-transmitted Babesia infection and post-donation babesiosis rose from zero in 1999 to 25 in 2007.

Babesia species can survive blood banking procedures, including freezing, according to Gubernot and her associates.

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