Babesia symptoms can be deadly: a family’s story

babesia-symptoms-deadly

The number of Babesia cases appears to be rising and as a recent article in the Washington Post reports, the tick-borne infection can be deadly when symptoms go unrecognized.

 

Babesia symptoms can be wide-ranging and difficult to recognize by clinicians and a missed or delayed diagnosis can be deadly.

In hopes of raising awareness, one family shares their story of a Babesia diagnosis that came just a little too late.

Jeff, a 51-year-old husband and father, was hospitalized with symptoms of jaundice, agitation and inability to urinate. It took 3 days before he was diagnosed with Babesia. But his symptoms had been present for at least one month — unrecognized, as the infection progressed.

Tiny tick leads to deadly infection

As his wife tells writer Abby Schwartz from the Washington Post,¹ Jeff frequently hiked outdoors near their home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. About a month prior to being admitted into the hospital, he had removed a tick, “no bigger than a poppy seed.”

In hindsight, “he may have had Babesia for a month,” Schwartz writes.

Diagnosis comes too late

For several weeks, Jeff reportedly had Babesia symptoms including fevers and night sweats. But clinicians presumed he had a kidney infection and prescribed a course of antibiotics. He improved briefly.

Then, he took a turn for the worst. “Jeff was weaker, sweating, unable to sleep,” his wife explains. “His breathing was labored. The whites of his eyes had yellowed, and his bilirubin was climbing, a sign that red blood cells were breaking down at an unusual rate or of liver trouble.”


READ MORE: Babesia cases among the elderly are rising, may require longer treatment


He was moved to the ICU and placed in a medically-induced coma and put on a ventilator. Doctors noted that his symptoms resembled malaria, but still did not suspect a tick-borne infection.

“His team periodically woke him, and he would squeeze his wife’s hand.”

On Tuesday, an infectious disease doctor shared some positive news. “We think we have a diagnosis.”

They suspected that Jeff had Babesiosis, a potentially deadly infection caused by parasites Babesia microti, which is typically transmitted through a tick bite.

He was prescribed an antibiotic (azithromycin) and antiparasitic (Atovaquone) medication for 7 to 10 days.

On Thursday, he died — just 2 days after starting treatment.

“If Jeff had been diagnosed early, when he first complained of night fevers, it might have been different for him,” writes Schwartz.

Since Jeff’s death, his wife and family have worked to raise awareness about Babesia.

Babesia signs and symptoms

Most people infected with Babesia do not show symptoms or have mild to moderate flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, nausea, and loss of appetite, which can appear days or even months later. (There is no telltale rash as with Lyme disease.)

Individuals most at-risk include the elderly and people with immunocompromised conditions. In fact, the death rate among those with an impaired immune system is as high as 20%, explains Peter Krause, a senior research scientist at Yale School of Public Health and Yale School of Medicine.

Although it is usually transmitted through a tick bite, Babesia can be acquired through a tainted blood transfusion.

Babesia cases are reported mostly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest but the disease is “increasing in frequency and geographic range,” warns Krause.

Babesia: Not recognized by all doctors

“It has to step up to the level of an infectious-disease specialist being brought in before it might get diagnosed, whereas in an area where it’s more prevalent, some of the front-line people, the emergency room doctors or urgent care doctors, might be a little more attuned to it,” says Sorana Segal-Maurer, an infectious-disease specialist at New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital.¹

Editor’s notes:

I disagree with three statements made by doctors interviewed for the story:

  1. I have Babesia patients who do not improve with only 7 to 10 days of treatment.
  2. I have Babesia patients who are sick who do not meet the risk criteria described above.
  3. I have Babesia patients who removed the tick in less than 24 hours and still became ill.
References:
  1. Babesiosis, a dangerous tick-borne infection that attacks red blood cells, appears to be a growing problem. Abby Schwartz, Washington Post, 5/29/21.
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17 Replies to "Babesia symptoms can be deadly: a family's story"

  • Jill
    07/18/2021 (10:25 pm)
    Reply

    I’ve had or was diagnosed with FMS since 1993. Lived in Oregon but visited Maine often. Developed profuse sweats just miserable but thought it was the FMS or side effect to a med or menopause but it stared when I was 35. Then in 99 moved to Maine. My symptoms got worse. At one point I felt I had the flu for 3 months. Nothing was addressed. In 2012 moved to California where my profuse sweating outbreaks continued. Body aches and sweating just made me feel like a freak. Then had three months of vertigo which prompted the doctor to test me. My Babesiosis count or level was 160. Very high. He put me on all the Lyme antibiotics and if I wasn’t feeling better at the next monthly appointment, he switched my med or dose. I had really bad herxing going on till one day I had just flown home from a trip and could hardly walk off the plane. Was swarmed with airport police, paramedics and more paramedics came from the city. By the time I got to the hospital I was hanging on to life by a thread. But even the ER doctors couldn’t figure it out even when we told them my Babesiosis history and the flood of antibiotics I had just been on. I was in the hospital for three nights with IVs and I don’t even know or remember what they gave me. They said I was just really sick and septic but could not explain why and continued to ignore my history’ of diagnosis and recent meds. Somehow my body pulled out of whatever and I went home. Since my previous symptoms didn’t really clear up, my doctor basically said he didn’t know what else to do but said I could go get hyperbaric chamber treatments in the city (at thousands of dollars I don’t have and insurance won’t cover) so my life just is an existence at 63 at this point. Do my best with supplements and diet. My doctor moved so asked my new doctor if I could get my blood retested to see where it stands, if the meds worked but just have residual damage to my health or is the Babesiosis still active and he just said that since I had antibiotic treatment that it “should” be gone and no need to retest. It’s very frustrating.
    That said, my heart goes out to Jeff’s family and their loss (introductory story of this link.)
    My daughter and grandkids still live in Maine and find ticks on them and their dogs and it scares me all the time!

  • shirley
    07/16/2021 (12:15 am)
    Reply

    I have had babesia duncani since aug 2002. I have been treated by several doctors and drugs. artemesinin keeps it under control but cant get rid of it. A friend of mine died from it. The hospital would not listen.

  • Joel
    07/15/2021 (10:04 am)
    Reply

    I went to IDCARE an infectious disease clinic, they testes me with a B. micoroti PCR when I was diagnosed with a B. Duncani anti body test, the doc saaid it’s all the same. When I questioned him, he told me he is the expert and that I should take a sleep study instead. They really have little knowledge on this subject.

  • Sydney Hampton
    07/15/2021 (12:50 am)
    Reply

    Hi Doc,
    I was diagnosed with Bburgadorfi and babesia in 2007. I’ve had numerous doctors say I have fibromyalgia. This is a sloppy diagnosis. My life has been pretty much destroyed. Eyes, knees , muscles and most cervical and lumbar joints. What are we to do when we’ve been laughed at so often? Right now I’m .3 weeks into an L-4-5 laminectomy and fusion. My left leg is so painful I barely get any sleep. When I say painful meds don’t stop it, ice and heat almost useless. What’s a girl to do? My skin is looking like an 80 year old.
    The babesia was never treated on its own. I had 2 three weeks runs if doxycycline.
    Any advice for. Silly ol me?!

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      07/15/2021 (6:18 am)
      Reply

      I have patients who have benefited from Babesia treatment despite being ill for years.

  • ChrisPowell
    07/14/2021 (1:01 pm)
    Reply

    Tragic. Your comments Dr Cameron are spot on.

  • Sue Savod
    07/14/2021 (12:04 pm)
    Reply

    I live in Northern California. We have lots of tick borne disease here but the doctors do not recognize it, do not understand it, and do not treat it correctly. After years of going to doctors who had no clue and my being diagnosed with other things, I figured it out for myself and found Lyme MD Dr. Raphael Stricker in San Francisco. He treated my Babesia for at least 6 months and it has not returned. He also cured my spotted fever. We are still working on the Bartonella, recurring, and the ever present Lyme disease. With the CDC’s estimate of 300,000 new cases of Lyme (greatly underestimated) until doctors are being trained to recognize and treat it, it will always be that weird disease pushed aside for more common diagnoses. My Babesia was not as life threatening as some, but became more serious as time went on. The recommended treatment time is too short for some Babesia and other tick borne diseases. Until the infectious disease doctors realize that antibiotics and anti-protozoans can and should be used for longer periods, there will be many who end up with chronic disease. Thank goodness for champions like Dr. Cameron, Dr. Burrascano, Dr. Stricker, Dr. Fallon and others who plug ahead trying to raise awareness and also treat these life altering diseases.

  • Sue
    07/14/2021 (11:36 am)
    Reply

    Question;. I was diagnosed with Lyme October 2018. CDC positive (IGM 3, IGG 8). doctor didn’t not test for co-infections. Went through 6 weeks doxy, 30 days iv ceftriaxon. One year later, I ordered my own tests because I suffer from terrible nerve pain my left side, fatigue and night sweats etc
    My tests show “past infection” for babesia.
    I have never actually treated for babesia specifically but, still have symptoms. If I were to treat for babesia, would it help with the typical symptoms? Or, is it too late?
    A neurologist told me I have Bannwarth syndrome and just learn to live with it and use pain killers.

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      07/14/2021 (12:41 pm)
      Reply

      I often find treatment for Babesia effective even if delayed. I encourage my patients with chronic pain to look again at a tick borne infection.

  • Joel
    07/14/2021 (10:16 am)
    Reply

    Hi Dr.

    The problem is, that as long as the CMP and CBC are normal, any Doc anywhere will not pay any attention to what you say.

    I have has a positive B. Duncani, above 1:512, and Doc still believe that I have fibromyalgia and not Babesia, because I was already treated for Babesia more than 30 days, and even that is overkill according to them.

    Most lyme Doc (not you of course) are basing there treatment on hearsay and blogs, throwing the kitchen sink, they dont know how to prove that one has any specific Lyme are co-lyme disease, they also dont know when it’s time to stop.

    Lyme Doc. are clueless and just pump you with 4-5 anti biotics, 5-6 supplements and when all fails they send you for IVIG, leaving you broke financially and spiritually.

    • Chris
      07/14/2021 (4:01 pm)
      Reply

      Joel,
      You said it all!
      Here’s a new twist: If you persist in telling Doctors you are sick…you will also get a psych referral. And for good measure, an Anxiety diagnosis.

      I have a dry sense of humor…maybe we should have a contest named “Top my Diagnosis” Laughter is good medicine – even in the face of a devastating disease like Lyme.

      Unbelievable!

      • Joel
        07/15/2021 (9:57 am)
        Reply

        My Lyme literate doc, says that Horowitz (supposedly a popular Lyme expert) says that Malarone doesn’t work so well ‘anymore’, so I should stop taking it, even though it works for me. Instead I should take Methylene Blue, Alania and Cryptolepis in addition to Minocycline. WHAT DOES HE MEAN MALARONE DOESNT WORK ANYMORE, WHEN DID IT STOP? DOES HE KNOW WHEN I GOT THE INFECTION? NO!

        I have no issue taking it, don’t buy into the fear of taking anti-biotics, but it’s clear to me that he has no idea what he’s doing, he likely reading Marty Ross’s blog and pushing anything. They all seem to be feeding off each other with very little back up, sometimes the information they working of is 20 years plus old. They will push for mold detox, amalgam removal, leaky gut, IVIG etc etc etc, never ending list of ‘maybe’s’ why the people are sick with no scientific pathology.

        When they started giving Anatbuse as a treatment I was frightened to find out that they based it off 3 people, 1 that relapsed and another that went into a psych ward and left a message that he is healed.

        We need help and it’s very slow to come, the CDC and IDSA are doing a disservice by squashing the disease and people end up running to these, costly, mostly PA licensed, Lyme literate docs who really dont know a-lot.

      • Phillip Smith
        07/15/2021 (3:31 pm)
        Reply

        I live in Alabama.Was bitten in September 2019.Was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in January 2020.Was treated three weeks With doxycycline.Thought I woul be ok.In January of this year started going down hill Fatigue joint pain brain fog trouble breathing.Got an appointment with LLMD rans several tests.My Lyme had gone chronic and also tested positive for Babesia.

  • Paulette Meier
    07/14/2021 (9:57 am)
    Reply

    I am so sorry to read the story by Jeff’s wife! 15 years ago, I was clinically diagnosed to have both Lyme disease and babesiosis by Lyme literate doctors In Pennsylvania and New Jersey; I still have flareups of both. The babesiosis never became life-threatening, but have had more mild symptoms such as “air hunger” and sometimes night sweats. I no longer have a LLMD available. I am curious if the bacteria is still present, is it possible to have life-threatening symptoms at some point in life?

  • Michael Janket
    07/14/2021 (6:32 am)
    Reply

    I was snatched from the jaws of death by an emergency physician who recognized babesiosis. I came within a very short time of expiring. 4 days in ICU with the appropriate medications helped, but I feel the drug regime was stopped prematurely and I relapsed. I’ve been on the meds for close to one year now, my PCR tests are negative, I feel good….but, who knows? Babesia can be elusive and can hang around for years. I’m lucky to be alive.

  • Lucy
    07/14/2021 (4:21 am)
    Reply

    Dr. Virginia Sherr in PA wrote a detailed study many years ago about the serious problems Babesia was causing and the immediate need for more Babesia awareness in PA and other states. Officials ignored her work, made no efforts to help the public and too many have suffered as a result. Thank you Dr. Cameron for your amazing efforts and many thanks to Jeff’s wife and family for helping to raise awareness too! Bless you all. 💗

    • Mary Lou marques
      07/14/2021 (5:48 pm)
      Reply

      I had Babesia last summer. Fever and terrible nights sweats, also bloody urine. I was hospitalized for 6 days with a diagnosis of viral infection and received flagel intravenously the entire time. On the 6 day as they were releasing me, a Dr. came in and said I had Babesia. At first I didn,t believe him until he said I was dying. They were going to admit me to ICU but because I didn,t have air hunger, they decided to let me do home and be treated there. What i don,t understand is I live in New England, where tick infections are very high. They test you here first and then when a positive comes back they have to send it out again to california!! Why isn,t the entire test done here. I almost died because they had to wait for a response from another lab and it took 5 days ! I was never so sick. I seemed to have recovered completely but when I ask for a follow up test for babeosis to see if I have completely recovered, I am told there no Dr. here that handles that. I also have Lyme disease that,s probably 10 years old.


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