1. “Babesiosis” refers to the disease itself; “babesia” refers to the parasites that cause the disease. Someone who has babesiosis may be said to have a “babesia infection.” (You’ll save yourself a big headache by realizing that right now. Trust me. Experience again.)
2. Babesia is thought to be the second most common blood parasite in mammals. (And the winner in that race? Trypanosomes, which causes sleeping sickness.
3. Although it ranks high in the blood parasites for mammals category, it is found less often in humans than other animals, the number of human infections has risen in recent years. But is that because the number of cases has actually gone up, or because advances in tests enable us to identify those cases better? (These kinds of questions have a profound effect upon my sleeping patterns.)
4. And how is the babesia spread to humans? Typically through a tick bite. (Move over, Lyme Disease; the Bab is on your tail!)
5. The good news is that most cases are asymptomatic, and so most people don’t even know they’ve been infected. The bad news is that makes it easier to pass on through blood donation.
6. Ah, but what about blood testing, you ask? As of this date, there’s no FDA-approved test that screens for babesia in the blood.
7. For those infected for whom the infection is NOT asymptomatic, most will only have a mild fever and a mild anemia. But severe cases will present in a manner similar to malaria and can lead to multi-organ failure and death.
8. Those most at risk of developing a severe form when infected include those without spleens, those with a weakened immune system, and the elderly.
9. Victor Babes is the lucky bacteriologist after whom babesia and babesiosis are named. (I’d insert a good bacteriologist joke here, but I know none.)
10. The tick that passes on the parasite must stay attached to a person’s kin for 36-48 hours in order to pass it on – so promptly and carefully removing any ticks as soon as possible can go a long way toward preventing babesiosis.