Babesiosis is an infection caused by Babesia, a tiny parasite or bacteria that infects your blood. If this sounds familiar to Lyme disease, that’s because it is. They are often coinfections. The reason is that ticks can carry more than one type of bacteria that can be transmitted to humans after a tick bites you.
There are over 100 strains of the babesia parasite, but the ones most often transmitted with Lyme disease are the babesia microti in the Eastern parts of America and babesia duncani in the West.
In a recent study of over 3,000 Lyme disease patients, 50% had coinfections, and 32% of those had babesiosis. It’s important to note that having Lyme disease is not a requirement for acquiring a coinfection.
Quick Facts About Babesiosis
The more you know about coinfections and babesiosis, the more you can do to prevent or treat it quickly and effectively. Here are the must-know facts:
- Primarily affects the brain and the central nervous system
- It ruptures red blood cells causing pain
- It can take between one and nine weeks to manifest symptoms
- It can increase the severity of Lyme disease
- The first case was identified in 1969
- It became a nationally known condition in 2011
- Ticks acquire babesiosis by feeding on infected cattle and rodents
- Babesia can be transmitted through blood transfusions
Who Is At Highest Risk for Babesiosis?
Babesiosis can affect anyone at any age. It is more commonly found in people living in the Northeast and Upper Midwestern states, but a different strain is found in the West and the South. Risk factors other than location include those with immune system problems, older age, and anyone with asplenia.
Someone receiving a transplant must be careful and pre-test the donated blood. There have been cases in which Babesia was passed from mother to infant while giving birth.
Other risk factors include the following:
- Comorbidities such as heart disease or diabetes
- Coinfections such as Lyme disease
- White or red blood cell disorders
- Outdoor enthusiasts
What Happens When Babesia Enters the Bloodstream?
When a tick feeds on your blood, it transmits Babesia into your bloodstream, where the bacteria forms a cross-like structure. The bacteria begin to attack red blood cells and absorb nutrients from their host. They then replicate and spread throughout the body. They may also form other structures that do not reproduce but reinvade red blood cells.
Like Lyme bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, Babesia can transform itself once in your blood. They can also hide and produce shields of protection. This makes it hard for your immune system and blood tests to detect the bacteria. Therefore, paying attention to and documenting your symptoms is a must.
Symptoms do not appear in everyone, and because it can take up to nine weeks to experience symptoms, they may be associated with a condition other than babesiosis. When so much time lapses, it is easy to forget about an encounter with a tick bite or being outdoors.
Plus, general practitioners often misdiagnose Lyme disease symptoms and coinfections unless you have a bullseye rash or find the tick on your body. They typically prescribe medicines to treat your symptoms, which will not eliminate babesiosis from your bloodstream.
You must know the symptoms of babesiosis so you can request further testing and a referral to a Lyme-literate doctor. Symptoms to watch out for include the following during the initial phase of infection:
- Breathing difficulties
Less Common Symptoms
Depending on the overall health of the person being bitten by an infected tick, additional symptoms may appear, including:
- Sore throat
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Rib or chest pain
More severe symptoms can include an enlarged spleen, jaundice, damage to the retina, and an inflamed pharynx. Complications can progress rapidly in some people and include organ dysfunction, respiratory distress, spleen rupture, hepatitis, and heart problems. Others may experience blood pressure instability, low platelet count, severe hemolytic anemia, blood clots, bleeding, abnormal liver enzymes, blood pressure problems, and in the worst-case scenario, coma or death.
Getting the Right Diagnosis
Seek the help of a Lyme-literate doctor for an accurate diagnosis. They have the most modern equipment and tools to ensure they get the diagnosis and treatment correct. Lyme-literate doctors will use the following test procedures for babesiosis:
- Blood testing to check for red blood cell functioning, liver enzymes, creatinine, anemia, and other signs
- Comprehensive check of symptoms, activities, and lifestyle factors
- Manual review of a blood smear for light microscopic analysis
- Molecular and serologic methods
Treatment of Babesiosis
The Lyme-literate doctor will create a treatment plan based on your symptoms, physical health, biology, and more. A combination of medicines is often used, including antibiotics and malarial medication.
Azithromycin and clindamycin are examples of antibiotics to treat babesiosis. Pneumonia medicines like atovaquone or quinine are paired with antibiotics. In cases of severe symptoms, doctors may prescribe vasopressors, ventilation, dialysis, fever-reducing antipyretics, and blood transfusions.
Lyme-literate doctors must also treat coinfection simultaneously. The main goals of treatment are to boost your immune system so it can do its job of fighting infections. Also, kill Babesia and remove it from your system.
Therapeutic apheresis is when the doctor removes unhealthy blood from your system and replaces it with healthy, donated blood. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a test for ensuring the donated blood is not infected with babesiosis, called the Imugen Babesia microti Nucleic Acid Test (NAT).
To boost the immune system, you may be advised to do the following:
- Get more quality sleep
- Decrease inflammation
- Stress management
- Rebalance hormones
- Remove yeast overgrowth
- Consume and absorb nutrients
A Johns Hopkins study reveals that some herbals, including cryptolepis, Japanese knotweed, Chinese skullcap, Artemisia, garlic, Andrographis, and cat’s claw, can kill Babesia.
Get Started Today
Don’t wait to contact a Lyme-literate doctor. Reach out online or call them to find out if your symptoms match those caused by Babesia and if so, get the treatment you deserve.