Image 1 - Tick-Born Infection Becoming Increasing Threat In Blood Supply
September 6, 2011

Tick-Born Infection Becoming Increasing Threat In Blood Supply


Government researchers said on Monday that a tick-born infection known as Babesiosis is becoming a growing threat to the U.S. blood supply.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve diagnostic tests that can detect the infection before people donate blood.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention performed a 31-year study that suggests the parasitic infection may be increasing.

Babesia infections are marked by anemia, fever, chills and fatigue, but can also cause organ failure and death.

The disease is known to occur in several U.S. states in the Northeast and Upper Midwest in the spring and summer.

A study led by Dr. Barbara Herwaldt of the CDC found cases had occurred year-round and in states where Babesia parasites are not found, such as Texas and Florida.

"Babesia microti has become the most frequently reported transfusion-transmitted parasite in the United States," CDC researchers wrote.  They said the infection is outpacing malaria infections.

A separate study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday by a team from the University of Nebraska looked at seven cases of transfusion-associated Babesiosis in premature infants. 

The team found that blood transfusions from two infected units of blood caused all seven of the cases of Babesiosis.

Symptoms of the infections varied widely, but babies with the lowest weights at birth were at greatest risk of serious infection.

The authors said doctors in areas in which Babesiosis occurs should watch out for cases in premature infants exposed to blood transfusions.

The CDC team said there needs to be better ways to prevent and detect cases of transfusion-associated Babesiosis.

"Our findings underscore the year-round vulnerability of the U.S. blood supply -- especially, but not only -- in and near Babesiosis-endemic areas.

"They also highlight the importance of multi-agency collaborative efforts to detect, investigate, and document transfusion cases; to assess the risks for transfusion transmission; and, thereby, to inform the scope of prevention measures."

The CDC said in January that public health departments should report all cases of the infections to the agency.


Image 2: Adult deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. Credit: Scott Bauer/PD-USGov-USDA-ARS


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