Beware the Woods: Ticks Now Spread a New Sickness Called Babesiosis

If you enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, it’s essential to be aware of ticks as these pesky insects pose a significant threat to your health. Ticks are carriers of Lyme disease and roam in wooded areas, especially throughout the East Coast and the Midwest states. As if this threat wasn’t enough, scientists have recently discovered another tick-related danger that could start infecting a large number of people: babesiosis.

What Is Babesiosis?

Researchers at Yale School of Public Health have found that babesiosis is emerging as a new tick-borne illness. It turns out that mice carrying the microbe leading to Lyme disease are also infected with the pathogen responsible for babesiosis.

Both diseases are transmitted through the bite of infected ticks that pick up the microorganisms from mice before injecting these pathogens into the human bloodstream. Babesiosis is only found in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent, as Lyme-infected rodents are also prone to this infection.

Maria Diuk-Wasser, one of the researchers, explains, “Ticks and natural hosts are commonly co-infected in nature, so understanding how these pathogens may influence each other’s abundance and distribution is key for public health.” Diuk-Wasser’s research shows that B. burgdorferi and B. microti infectious organisms co-occur in ticks more frequently than expected, resulting in increased human exposure to multiple infections. Consequently, this can cause more severe symptoms and complicate diagnosis.

High-Risk Areas

There are 14 states—mainly on the East Coast and the Midwest—where 95 percent of all Lyme disease cases are reported, and approximately 30,000 people are newly infected each year. Among these high-risk areas are Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, where about 1,000 new cases of babesiosis are reported annually.

Similar Symptoms

The symptoms of Lyme disease and babesiosis are quite similar, making it even more challenging to distinguish between the two. Symptoms may include fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, and enlarged spleen. As a result, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect any of these symptoms after spending time in wooded areas.

Special Dangers for Those with Weakened Immune Systems

Although babesiosis doesn’t usually cause life-threatening concerns for healthy individuals, it can be fatal for those with weakened immune systems. It poses a significant risk to people with underlying health conditions, such as liver or kidney disease, and those who have undergone extensive medical treatment, like chemotherapy.

Blood Transfusion Dangers

While ticks are the primary culprits of babesiosis, the disease can also be transmitted through contaminated blood used for blood transfusions. It poses a significant concern as babesiosis may go undetected for a significant amount of time in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic carriers. Therefore, screening measures are crucial to prevent the spread of infection through blood transfusions.

Prevention Measures

As babesiosis—and Lyme disease—have increasingly become a cause for concern, it’s essential to take preventive measures to reduce the risks of contracting these diseases. When spending time outdoors in wooded areas, always wear long sleeves and pants to cover your skin, use a reliable insect repellent, and be sure to check your body frequently for ticks. If you do find a tick, remove it promptly using the right tools and techniques.

Moreover, it’s important to recognize that pets can also bring ticks into your home, so keep a close eye on them and consider keeping them on flea and tick prevention medications.

Raising Awareness

As scientists continue to research and understand the prevalence of babesiosis, it’s crucial to stay knowledgeable and share information on this emerging threat. With proper awareness and preventive measures, you can enjoy the great outdoors without any fear of ticks and the health dangers they carry. Stay informed, and engage with reputable resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mayo Clinic to learn more about ticks, babesiosis, and Lyme disease, and stay safe while exploring the beauty of nature.