Zoonotic babesiosis: overview of the disease and novel aspects of pathogen identity

Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2010 Mar;1(1):3-10. doi: 10.1016/j.ttbdis.2009.11.003. Epub 2009 Dec 24.


Babesiosis is a zoonosis caused by tick-transmitted intraerythrocytic protozoa of the Phylum Apicomplexa. The disease mostly occurs in the USA, but cases have also been reported in several European countries, in Egypt, India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and South Africa. The main pathological event is lysis of erythrocytes resulting in haemolytic anaemia, which in severe cases may lead to organ failure and death, particularly in immunocompromised patients. The 2 groups of parasites involved, Babesia microti-like and Babesia sensu stricto (s.s.) species, differ in their life cycle characteristics and susceptibility to antibabesial drugs. Molecular taxonomy is now making a major contribution to the identification of novel pathogens within both groups. Effective treatment of severe cases was initially hampered by the lack of specific antibabesial drugs for human use, but increased use of supportive measures and of the recently developed antimalarial, atovaquone, particularly in combination with azithromycin, has improved the prospects for management of acute disease especially when caused by Babesia s.s. species. Prevention should be based primarily on increasing the awareness of physicians and the public to the risks, but infection from blood transfusions is particularly difficult to prevent. Expanding deer populations, resulting in wider distribution and greater abundance of ticks, heightened medical awareness, and growing numbers of immunocompromised patients are likely to result in a continuing rise of reported cases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Babesiosis / parasitology*
  • Babesiosis / transmission*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Zoonoses / parasitology*