Human babesiosis caused by Babesia duncani is an emerging infectious disease in Canada. This malaria-like illness is brought about by a protozoan parasite infecting red blood cells. Currently, controversy surrounds which tick species are vectors of B. duncani. Since the availability of a serological or molecular test in Canada for B. duncani has been limited, we conducted a seven-year surveillance study (2011⁻2017) to ascertain the occurrence and geographic distribution of B. duncani infection country-wide. Surveillance case data for human B. duncani infections were collected by contacting physicians and naturopathic physicians in the United States and Canada who specialize in tick-borne diseases. During the seven-year period, 1119 cases were identified. The presence of B. duncani infections was widespread across Canada, with the highest occurrence in the Pacific coast region. Patients with human babesiosis may be asymptomatic, but as this parasitemia progresses, symptoms range from mild to fatal. Donors of blood, plasma, living tissues, and organs may unknowingly be infected with this piroplasm and are contributing to the spread of this zoonosis. Our data show that greater awareness of human babesiosis is needed in Canada, and the imminent threat to the security of the Canadian blood supply warrants further investigation. Based on our epidemiological findings, human babesiosis should be a nationally notifiable disease in Canada. Whenever a patient has a tick bite, health practitioners must watch for B. duncani infections, and include human babesiosis in their differential diagnosis.
Keywords: Babesia duncani; Canada; babesial piroplasm; epidemiology; human babesiosis; incidence; ticks; vectors.