A new government-led study suggests that the U.S. blood supply is vulnerable to a somewhat rare infection carried by the same tick that spreads Lyme disease.
In the past few years, there have been more reports of the tick-borne illness called babesiosis.
That has experts wishing they had a rapid test to screen donations and better protect the blood supply.
“There’s concern that perhaps in certain parts of the country it would be appropriate to test the blood for the parasite,” said David Leiby of the American Red Cross. “But at this time there’s not a test approved and licensed by the Food and Drug Administration.
The incidence of babesiosis has been noted in two upper Midwest states and throughout the Northeast, including New Jersey and New York.
The illness can be transmitted directly from a tick bite–or a transfusion from blood infected by the babesia.
Healthy people who’ve contracted the disease often suffer only mild flu-like symptoms; everyday antibiotics usually clear the infection.
Some patients with a weakened immune system have died.
“The people who died also had other complicating factors, so to say that it was death strictly due to babesiosis would be difficult,” Leiby said.
It’s not clear if the increased number of cases reflects better awareness or a wider reach for the parasite.