Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tick-Borne Infections Infiltrate U.S. Blood Supply (But wait, Lyme disease and all that is just in people's heads, right?)

Allow me a tiny I Told You So. In February, I wrote a story for SELF Magazine about the rising incidence of diseases other than Lyme that are caused by tick bites. (And told you about it here, of course.) The story highlighted one particular tick-borne parasite, Babesia, and a serious problem with the infection it causes, babesiosis: that it was moving into the blood supply. We dug through FDA transcripts and CDC field reports in order to reveal that federal health authorities were very concerned about this prospect, and that more than 100 babesiosis infections caused by transfusions had already occurred — not just in the few states where the tick species carrying Babesia are found, but throughout the United States because blood products are shipped nationwide.

Ours was the first reporting we could find about babesiosis in the blood supply, and it didn’t get the attention it should have, probably because women’s magazines tend to be dismissed as not-serious — even though SELF’s health and medical reporting has won prizes and been turned into books. But based on research released this morning, our story at SELF wasn’t hyping the problem. If anything, we understated it.

OK, enough infomercial. Here’s the news: In a paper released ahead-of-print by the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rhode Island and New York State report that 159 cases of babesiosis were caused by transfusions in the past 30 years and “the risk may be increasing.” Twenty-seven of the patients died. more