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

e the parasite takes up residence during babesiosis infection.

"Consider the diagnosis and then order the appropriate test," Herwaldt said. Diagnosis involves looking at droplets of blood under a microscope. "Babesiosis is treatable with antibiotics that are commonly and readily available."

"Babesia infection is on the rise and is potentially fatal, especially for immune-compromised and older people," said Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. "This is an important consideration in terms of testing on blood supply."

Time is of the essence, he said. The best option right now is for blood banks to look at a droplet of a donor's blood under a microscope. They may not be able to tell what is tainting the blood, but they will know it is tainted, he explained.

"They would be able to tell that the red cells may be parasitized by something, and that the blood needs to be further checked in microbiology lab," he said. "This is the best option right now in light of increase in numbers of cases."

Babesiosis in the U.S. blood supply "is something to be reckoned with, and by the time that anyone develops a test that is simple enough to be used by blood banks, it will be too late," he said. Excluding people with a history of babesiosis infection from the blood donor pool won't work because most people don't know they have it.

People who are receiving blood transfusions may be especially vulnerable to babesiosis, he said.

Prevention also has a role in keeping infection out of the blood supply in the first place, he said. "Keep away from ticks," Tierno said. "The same ticks that can give you Lyme disease and other types of tick-borne illness can give you babesiosis."

When you go outdoors during tick season, wear protective clothing and use an insect repellent, he added.

The CDC also recommends doing full-body checks and
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