Via The New York Times: Babesiosis May One Day Rival Lyme Disease. Excerpt:
Despite its many delights, summer also brings its fair share of pestilence. One, called babesiosis, has only recently been widely recognized as a potentially serious outdoor hazard. According to a very detailed study conducted on Block Island, R.I., it could eventually rival Lyme disease as the most common tick-borne ailment in the United States.
But with reasonable precautions, neither babesiosis nor Lyme should keep you from enjoying a romp in the grass or hike in the woods.
Babesiosis is caused by protozoans that invade red blood cells and can cause a malarialike illness. The disease has an interesting history, recently recounted in The New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Peter J. Krause, a Yale researcher specializing in tick-borne diseases, and Edouard Vannier, an immunologist at Tufts Medical Center.
Babesiosis (pronounced buh-BEEZ-e-OH-sis) is named for Dr. Victor Babes, a Romanian pathologist who in 1888 identified the disease in cattle that had fever and blood-tainted urine. Until the mid-20th century, the disease was known only in wild and domestic animals, which can be infected by more than 100 different Babesia species.
The first human case was not recognized until 1957. A Croatian herdsman who had no spleen, an important immunological organ, died quickly of the infection, which he most likely acquired from the animals he tended. Twelve years later, the first case in an immunologically normal person was identified on Nantucket Island, and for years the disease was called Nantucket fever.
Unlike Lyme disease, which quickly leapfrogged across the country, babesiosis is spreading slowly through the Northeast and Upper Midwest, where it is increasingly recognized as the cause of a flulike summer ailment. It has been said that Lyme disease moves on the wings of birds, which some experts believe carry the bacteria causing the condition. Babesiosis, however, moves on the backs of mice and deer. Birds do not spread it.
But like the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, Babesia protozoans are transmitted to humans by ticks, which acquire the infection from the white-footed mouse and white-tailed deer. And, yes, the same tick — Ixodes scapularis, popularly called a deer tick — transmits both Lyme disease and babesiosis in this country.