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CDC: Tick-Borne Babesiosis a Major Blood Transfusion Threat

Keith Brofsky/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- While bites from deer ticks are usually to blame for cases of babesiosis -- a potentially fatal parasitic illness that mimics malaria -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified at least 159 cases of the disease transmitted through blood transfusions.

In new research published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers identified transmission-associated cases of babesiosis between 1979 and 2009.  More than 75 percent of the cases occurred during 2000 and 2009, and while 87 percent of cases were found in the seven states where babesiosis is most common, there were also cases in 15 other states.

“The risk for transfusion-associated Babesia [the parasite that causes the disease] infection may be increasing,” the authors wrote.  “Cases have occurred year-round and have been seen in states where Babesia species are not endemic.”

While most people infected with babesiosis have no symptoms, others may experience fatigue, anemia, jaundice and other symptoms.  It can sometimes be fatal, especially in the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

Babesiosis is the most common disease transmitted through blood transfusions.

A history of babesiosis will exclude someone from donating blood, but signs of infection may not show up right away so a person may not know he or she is ill.  So far, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved any screening test for the presence of Babesia.

The researchers believe the transfusion-associated cases uncovered during their research are only a fraction of the number that may actually have occurred.

“The extent to which cases were not detected, investigated, or reported (to the CDC, to other public health authorities, or in publications) is unknown,” the authors wrote.  “Donor-screening strategies that mitigate the risk for transfusion transmission are needed.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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