Babesiosis is the latest tick-borne illness on the rise in Maine and can cause a potentially life-threatening condition.
It's pronounced beh BEE zee o sis, and it's caused by a parasite that's carried by those nasty little deer ticks that are so prevalent right now. I, personally, found about 12 of them crawling on me over the weekend, carried into the house by my dog and my bow-hunter husband. When I read that there's been an uptick (pun intended) of the condition in Maine this year, I had to do some research because I'd never heard of it. Lyme Disease is pretty common, and most of us have read up on symptoms and treatments. But babesiosis? What the heck is that?
According to the Maine CDC, the babesiosis parasite can infect a person's red blood cells. The infection can then cause severe anemia and become a life-threatening condition for people who are elderly and/or have serious health conditions or a weakened immune system. That's the worst-case scenario, however. Many people who are infected with the parasite will show no symptoms at all. For those who do start having symptoms they can include:
- Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
Identifying the infection is done through a simple blood test. And the good news is that once diagnosed, it is treatable. Oh, and more good news...the parasite is carried by ticks in the nymph (youth) stage, so is found in the summer and spring. Not really something we need to worry about now.
The best defense is the same as for Lyme disease, including wearing repellents on your skin and clothes whenever you're going to be outdoors, in typical tick habitats. Wear long-sleeve shirts, whenever possible, tuck your long pant legs into your boots, and remember to do regular tick checks whenever you get back inside.