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Tick-borne Illness May Lurk in Blood Supply
Date:9/6/2011

By Denise Mann
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 5 (HealthDay News) -- An uncommon, but potentially fatal, tick-borne illness may be creeping into the U.S. blood supply and doctors need to develop a way to spot it, researchers report.

Babesiosis is a parasitic infection that is transmitted through a tick bite or during a blood transfusion. Symptoms range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe difficulty with breathing, organ damage and death. People with compromised immune systems are most at risk for fatal babesiosis infection.

The first tick-borne case of babesiosis was documented in Massachusetts in 1969, and the first known transfusion-related infection occurred in 1979. Since then, there have been 159 transfusion-associated babesiosis cases reported in the United States, according to a study published in the Sept. 6 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

There is no approved screening test for blood donors, and many people have no symptoms so they don't even realize they are infected when they donate blood.

Study author Dr. Barbara Herwaldt, a medical epidemiologist at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the threat "uncommon, but important."

Transfusion-related cases know no boundaries. "Most tick-borne cases of babesiosis occur during the warm months and have only been seen within seven states in Northeast and Midwest," she said. "Transfusion-related infection can occur in all four seasons and, in theory, could occur anywhere," she said. "Blood donors travel and blood components are shipped across state lines."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently working on ways to keep babesia out of the blood supply, but until that occurs doctors must put babesiosis on their radar screen, particularly if someone has unexplained fever or a certain type of anemia known as hemolytic anemia (low red blood cell count). These are the blood cells wher
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