Symptoms, treatment and more on tick-borne illness

Xavier Roger


Little creatures have woken up to wreak havoc on people as spring begins.

Blacklegged ticks are tiny organisms that, in addition to Lyme disease, can result in a wide range of other health problems. Babesiosis is a disease spread by ticks that primarily affects individuals in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on March 17, that babesiosis cases increased significantly from 2011 to 2019.

While some people have no symptoms after contracting babesiosis, the most common symptoms include fever and muscle and joint pain. It can be fatal if people with compromised immune systems or previous kidney or liver disease contract it. 

Here’s a look at what we know:

States with reported cases of babesiosis

The CDC assessed the increase in babesiosis across 10 states. States that experienced the largest change in cases per 100,000 of their populations include Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, which were not previously considered to have endemic babesiosis.

States with the highest increase in babesiosis cases by year

The other states included in the study, which did have endemic babesiosis, were Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Of the 16,456 cases of babesiosis reported to the CDC in that time period, 98% of the cases came from those 10 states.

Other states cases included in the study by year

All tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, infected 50,856 people in 2019, a 25% increase from 2011.

What causes babesiosis?

It’s caused by the bite of a blacklegged tick or deer tick, which carry Babesia microti – microscopic parasites that infect human red blood cells. Deer ticks also transmit Lyme disease as well as two other lesser-known bacterial diseases: anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis.

Babesiosis cases can occur through blood transfusions, organ transplants, or childbirth when a mother is infected.

What are the symptoms of babesiosis?

Some people have no symptoms, while others may develop flu-like symptoms such as fever or muscle and joint pain. In severe cases, they can develop organ failure, blood clots, or unstable blood pressure.

Can babesiosis be treated?

Babesiosis can be treated using antibiotics such as azithromycin and atovaquone. 

People with a compromised immune system or those without a spleen can be at risk for more severe cases, even death, according to Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.


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