Babesia In The Blood? There Should Be A Test For That | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Babesia In The Blood? There Should Be A Test For That

Nobody likes ticks. Well, maybe some scientists who study them do. But civilians and people concerned with public health really are not fans.

Earlier this week, we saw some new anti-tick fodder in a roundup of cases of babesiosis, an emerging illness that's usually transmitted by a tick's bite, or in some cases, by blood transfusions. A paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine described 159 cases of babesiosis, a malaria-like infection with the parasite Babesia microti, due to transfusions over a 31-year period ending in 2009. Some people died. And the figures, in all likelihood, underestimate the true extent of the illnesses.

Cases of babesiosis are found mostly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, where the parasite lives. But the illness is becoming a bigger public health worry, and the study showed the blood supply could spread it further. The big problem, as an accompanying editorial points out, is that there's no test to screen blood for the parasite.

I talked about it with parasitologist David Leiby, who wrote the editorial and is the head of transmissible disease research at the American Red Cross' Holland Laboratory. "Technically, there are challenges, of course," he said, with developing a test. The parasite gets inside red blood cells which make it trickier to detect. But, he said, that's not "insurmountable."

The bigger issue at the moment is economic. Because babesia are a regional rather than a national or international hazard, the market for a test is limited, which reduces the incentives for a company. And any test has to pass muster with the Food and Drug Administration, which isn't a trivial or inexpensive hurdle to clear.

A test has to be very sensitive and fast, so blood can be screened quickly, he said. Cost, too, is an issue — a test has to be affordable. He says there's some momentum building for one, and he expects the recent report on transfusion-related illnesses will help galvanize action.

And it's already the case that the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has given a $214,000 grant to Immunetics, a company that develops blood assays, to work on one.

For more on the rather disgusting, intertwined life cycles of babesia, ticks, mice and humans, there's a video below from the University of Rhode Island's Tick Encounter Resource Center.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

New Shakespeare Movie Puts Hamlet In Kashmir

Shakespeare's Hamlet has been turned into a Bollywood film, but this time, the story is set in Indian-controlled Kashmir. NPR's Scott Simon talks to screenwriter Basharat Peer.
NPR

Tracing A Gin-Soaked Trail In London

Around the world, new gin distilleries are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. NPR traces the boom to its historic roots in London, which once had 250 distilleries within the city limits alone.
NPR

Ballot Questions Draw Voters In 43 States

Ballot measures cover a lot of ground this year — from minimum wage to school calendars to one involving doughnuts and bear hunting. NPR's Charlie Mahtesian takes NPR's Scott Simon through the list.
NPR

Tech Week: Voice Mail Hang-Ups, Apple Pay And Zuckerberg's Chinese

In this week's roundup, Apple rolls out its mobile payment system but confronts a security test in China, the problem with voice mail messages and Mark Zuckerberg shows off his Mandarin.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.