More research is needed on how many people are affected by Babesia microti. What is known so far is that a growing number of people are testing positive for it. Statistics show that out of all the people over 65 with Medicare, 19,469 tested positive for Babesia microti in 2017, raising incidences to 9 per 100,000 people. While the states with the highest rates are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, most are at risk.
To understand the impact of Babesia microti as it relates to you and your family, you must first understand what it is, how it is transmitted, and how it affects a person’s health.
What is Babesia Microti?
Babesiosis is an infection caused by Babesia microti, which are tiny parasites. They are so small that they may be hard to see without a microscope. The parasites infect the red blood cells of animals and humans. While there are many different types of Babesia parasites, the Babesia microti is the most common one that infects humans.
Babesiosis is sometimes confused with Lyme Disease and malaria. While they have similarities, it’s essential to know the differences. A bacterial infection causes Lyme disease, malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium, and Babesiosis is caused by the parasite Babesia microti.
Ticks transmit Babesiosis and Lyme disease, most common in the Northeastern United States, while mosquitos transmit malaria, most common in Africa.
How Do Humans Get Babesia Microti?
The process of humans being infected by Babesia microti is the same as Lyme disease, transmitted by a tick, the black-legged or deer tick. Any Babesiosis is often a coinfection of Lyme disease, although it can also exist without the presence of Lyme disease. You can have multiple coinfections at once.
Ticks live for about three years, progressing through various stages of life: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. During the nymph stage, a tick can attach to a human to feed on warm blood. While feeding, it transmits the parasites into a human’s bloodstream.
Nymphs are the size of poppy seeds, tiny, and hard to notice. You may start experiencing symptoms but not realize they result from a tick bite. Therefore, the more you know about the symptoms, the better your chance of receiving an accurate diagnosis and treatment early on.
Symptoms of Babesia Microti
Babesia microti affects people differently. One person may not have symptoms, while another may experience debilitating symptoms. It can take up to six weeks for symptoms to appear. In the beginning, symptoms can mimic everything from the common cold, stress, lack of sleep, depression, or having too many responsibilities at home, school, work, or socially.
Symptoms to watch out for include the following:
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
Less common symptoms may include pain in the abdomen, skin bruising, mood changes, chest pain, hip pain, and yellowing of your eyes or skin.
Is Babesia Microti Life Threatening?
The parasitic infection of Babesia microti does not have severe consequences for most people. However, for some people, it can range from debilitating to life-threatening. Because the parasites destroy red blood cells, it can lead to anemia in some people. With anemia, there is insufficient oxygen and iron in your blood to nourish the rest of the body. You are left feeling weak and too tired to complete daily functions.
Recognizing all anemia-related signs is crucial as they may signal a parasitic infection. Anemia can cause jaundice, shortness of breath, intolerance to activity, and spleen or liver enlargement.
People who develop severe cases of Babesia microti may experience blood-clotting disorders such as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), respiratory problems, and trouble controlling their blood pressure. It can also impact the functioning of the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Babesia microti can be life-threatening for people with weak immune systems, especially those caused by autoimmune diseases. If you do not have a spleen, have kidney or liver disease, or are elderly, you are at higher risk for severe effects.
How Do I Know If I Have Babesia Microti?
Getting an accurate diagnosis requires working with a rare infectious disease specialist. You can start your search by researching the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. International searching is recommended because some of the best doctors are outside the United States and Canada. Lyme Mexico, for example.
Diagnosis should include much more than an antibody test. Choose a doctor who will examine your blood under a microscope, where they can visually see the parasites in your blood cells. Your doctor should be eager to have your blood sent to world-renowned laboratories for more extensive testing for Babesia microti, Lyme disease, and other coinfections.
They may also utilize polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which makes millions of copies of your blood’s DNA so it can be studied in depth.
How is Babesia Microti Treated?
Your treatment plan will be unique based on your health needs. Antibiotics will likely be part of the treatment plan, but antibiotics do not always remove parasites. Your doctor will pair it with an antiparasitic, malaria-like drug.
Working with a Lyme-literate or infectious disease specialist means you can also receive advanced treatments, including the following, to rid your body of Babesia microti:
- Therapeutic apheresis or red blood cell exchange
- Intravenous antibiotics, antiparasitic drugs, and vitamins
- Immune modulation
- Antiparasitic protocols
- Detox therapies
How to Reduce the Impact of Babesia Microti
Avoiding a tick bite is the best way to reduce your chances of acquiring Babesia microti. If you are going outdoors, wear clothing that covers your skin. Clothing serves as a barrier between you and the tick. Wear long sleeves, pants, closed-toe shoes, and hats when possible.
Avoid areas with high grass and brush if you can’t wear protective clothing. Stay on the paths of hiking trails. Spray yourself, your clothing, and your pets with tick repellent.
Finally, contact a specialist as soon as you begin to experience symptoms. Consider traveling outside the country to receive treatment from top experts. Your health is worth it.