Experts sound alarm over babesiosis a tick-borne disease that kills people and infects cats

The tick, an unpleasant ectoparasite, is back in the news. We all know about Lyme disease carried by ticks but this is different. It’s a disease called babesiosis and it can be fatal to people in 20% of sufferers. And it’s on the increase in America where the incidence of the disease has more than doubled in a decade. They think it is linked to climate change and clearing more land for development. This is a zoonotic disease.

There are probably more cases than those that are reported. Infections are rising in America’s mid-West, North East and the West. The disease is most common in the summer months when ticks are active.

Babesiosis on the rise in the United States
Babesiosis on the rise in the United States. Image: MikeB.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The disease is transmitted to cats and people by the tick which passes a single-celled organism, Babesia, into the victim’s blood stream. This microbe normally passes between ticks and deer but it can infect other animals.

Babesiosis is described as a malaria-like disease. Patients show symptoms one to six weeks after a bite and give the impression that they have malaria with fever, headache and muscle pains.

The disease can become more serious causing organ failure, a swollen liver or spleen and anaemia. The pathogen destroys red blood cells.

It is more likely to prove fatal in elderly people and those who are immunocompromised with the death rate being a size 20% in that segment of society.

The disease is treated with antibiotics and anti-parasite drugs. There appears to be some uncertainty about whether the same species protozoan affects people and cats. There is certainly a developing area because one well-known veterinary website, MSD MANUAL Veterinary Manual states that, “it is unclear whether the species of Babesia that infects cats are the same as those that infect people”.

They say that there are a small number of human cases but as we can see in the news today the numbers are rising. The species that affects cats is called Babesia felis. It is mostly been reported in domestic cats in southern Africa.

In America, CDC states that the disease is becoming more prevalent in 8 of 10 states that monitor the infection especially in the north-east. However, many cases are missed because patients may be simultaneously infected with Lyme disease.

A problem might be that doctors and veterinarians are unsure about babesiosis and miss it. They don’t know what signs to look out for.

There are actually two types of protozoan behind the illness namely Babesia microti and B. duncani. The latter is spread by the winter tick in autumn and early winter.

Researchers say that its structure resembles the parasite behind malaria.

The experts are assembling a genome to understand the disease better and how it avoids the host’s immune system. The pathogen appears to have evolved to avoid the human immune response.

The disease has become endemic in three states, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and was first detected in the US in 1969. The information comes from the Daily Mail via a study published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

Infographic on toxoplasmosis and its zoonotic ability

Domestic cat has Q Fever and its zoonotic

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