Like it or not, tick season is already here in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Basically speaking, as soon as you can see bare ground after snow melts, you could expect to see ticks.
Most people in the Upper Midwest are well aware of Lyme disease, which is a tick-borne illness commonly associated with deer ticks. Deer ticks can be found in most of both Minnesota and Wisconsin, with the greatest concentration in the central and northern parts of both states.
In an alarming trend, cases of Lyme Disease around the country are on the rise. According to a researcher from Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts, this nationwide rise in Lyme Disease cases is also being accompanied by an increase in cases of what was once considered a much more rare tick-borne disease.
This lesser-known tick-borne disease reportedly on the rise is also linked to deer ticks found in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin. The disease, known as babesiosis, can lead to some significant health issues for those infected.
According to data reported by Huffington Post from Tufts Medical Center, Lyme disease remains a more prevalent tick-borne illness across the country, but the uptick in cases of babesiosis around the country means people should be on the lookout.
What is babesiosis?
According to the CDC, babesiosis is caused by parasitic microbes that infect red blood cells. They explain that there are many types of these parasites found in animals, but only a few varieties have been found in humans.
The most common variety of the parasite that has been known to impact people is a variety that usually infects white-footed mice and other small mammals.
How and where do you get babesiosis?
Most reported cases of this disease are in places in the Upper Midwest like Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with places in the Northeastern United States, particularly in New England, New Jersey, and New York.
The disease is contracted most commonly through the bite of an infected tick. Ticks mostly associated with the spread of this disease are blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks.
While most people infected by this parasite get it through tick bites, it can also be transmitted from an infected mother to their child during pregnancy or delivery, or it can be contracted by getting a blood transfusion from an infected person.
The CDC notes that there are currently no licensed tests for blood donor screening for this disease.
What are the symptoms of babesiosis?
The CDC explains that not everyone infected will show symptoms. While some will feel perfectly fine and show no symptoms at all, others develop flu-like symptoms that include things like fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, or fatigue.
The onset of symptoms could start within about a week of being bitten with an infected tick (or other means of infection). Symptoms could develop within a few weeks, or sometimes even longer.
According to the CDC, babesiosis can be most severe, or even life-threatening, for certain groups of people. Those that are at the greatest risk of severe illness include: people without a spleen, elderly individuals, those with weakened immune systems due to things like cancer, lymphoma, or AIDS, or people with other serious health conditions like kidney or liver disease.
How common is babesiosis?
According to data from Tufts Medical Center (reported by Huffington Post), Lyme Disease cases continue to be way more common that babesiosis cases. That said, both diseases are seeing a rise in cases.
Reported Lyme cases are currently around 30,000 per year around the country, with experts believing that more cases go unreported. The CDC estimates there are higher numbers of people with Lyme that are not reported.
Babesiosis, on the other hand, currently sees around 2,500 reported cases a year, with that number on an upward trend. Experts believe the actual numbers of people infected each year are much higher, with some people not even knowing they've had the disease.
Is there a treatment or prevention for babesiosis?
The CDC says that there are effective treatments for babesiosis. They explain that people that don't show symptoms usually don't need treatment, but for those that are inflicted with symptoms, there are treatment options.
There are no vaccines or preventative medications for babesiosis. That said, the best preventative measures are simply to follow normal tick prevention. Things like avoiding tick-infested areas (tall grass, wooded areas) using a tick repellant with DEET, and checking for ticks after being outdoors.
While on the rise, thankfully babesiosis cases are still relatively rare compared to Lyme disease, which is also on the rise around the country. Here's where the most cases of Lyme disease have been reported around Minnesota.