Tags: Deadly | Infection | From | Ticks | Underdiagnosed

Deadly Infection From Ticks Underdiagnosed

Thursday, 31 May 2001 12:00 AM

Babesiosis is a parasitic infection carried in mice and other rodents. The disease, carried to humans by ticks, attacks the red blood cells and causes symptoms often mistaken for the flu. Unlike Lyme disease, with its distinctive target-shaped rash, tick bites carrying babesiosis are often undetected. Symptoms appear one to six weeks after a tick bite and can last several weeks or months.

In most people, symptoms disappear without treatment, but in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems - and especially for people lacking a spleen - the infection can prove deadly, Dr. Peter Krause, of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine at Farmington, told United Press International.

"Symptoms resemble the flu: fatigue, appetite loss, fever, chills, muscle pains and headaches," Krause said. "We are concerned that it may be more widespread than we have previously thought."

The disease, once considered rare, is now classified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as "emerging," meaning that the number of cases is increasing at a steady rate.

"Diagnostic tests are still fairly new so diagnosis is difficult. We believe it's grossly underreported," said Krause, a researcher with the university's Center for Microbial Pathogenesis and a pediatrician at Connecticut Children's Medical Center.

Babesiosis was recognized in the Northeast in the 1960s and became endemic by the 1980s in Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Shelter Island and parts of Long Island, as well as other areas along the Northeastern coast, according to Mary Shepherd, who is with the CDC's infectious disease branch. Cases recently have been reported in New Jersey. While the number of cases is increasing, the exact number of infections each year is unknown, she told UPI.

According to Dr. Sean O. Henderson, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, hundreds of cases have been reported since the first domestic case in 1966. The increasing number of cases over the past 30 years may be the result of restocking of the deer population, curtailment of hunting and an increase in outdoor recreational activities, he explained.

"Adequate reporting is a major problem, especially in children, because of masking by other infections and the disease's history of occurrence in elderly patients," he said.

Krause said because the infection masquerades as the flu in most people this number "is probably in the hundreds, if not thousands."

Treatment of severe infection has had only limited success, according to the CDC, but the disease, if properly diagnosed, can be treated in earlier stages because of its similarity to malaria. A combination of clindamycin and quinine kills infection, although newer combination therapy is available with fewer side effects, Krause noted.

He and Dr. Andrew Speilman, of the Harvard School of Public Health, recently completed a three-year study of 58 patients with non-life-threatening babesioisis, gauging the effectiveness of clindamycin and quinine when compared to atovaquone with azithromycin. While both combinations were equally effective, just 15 percent of patients taking the newer drug regimen reported side effects, compared to 72 percent who received the anti-malaria combination. Almost one-third of that group had to reduce or discontinue treatment because of the severity of their side effects.

"Prevention is, of course, the best approach," Krause said. "Persons living in areas where ticks carry babesiosis need to be aware of this, just as they are now more aware of Lyme disease. For those over age 50 and the immunocompromised, any flu-like symptoms after being in wooded areas need to be evaluated, diagnosed and treated as soon as possible."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Babesiosis is a parasitic infection carried in mice and other rodents. The disease, carried to humans by ticks, attacks the red blood cells and causes symptoms often mistaken for the flu. Unlike Lyme disease, with its distinctive target-shaped rash, tick bites carrying...
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2001-00-31
Thursday, 31 May 2001 12:00 AM
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