Warning Signs Of Babesiosis

Babesiosis is a disease that occurs when certain microscopic parasites infect red blood cells. These parasites are spread by certain types of ticks. For individuals in the United States, transmission by tick occurs most commonly in certain seasons and regions. The disease is most commonly found in the upper Midwest and Northeast during the warmest months. Many individuals with babesiosis don't have any symptoms, but treatment is available for those who do. Individuals can prevent the contraction of babesiosis by reducing their exposure to ticks. This means wearing long and protective clothing, checking themselves for ticks after being in places with potential exposure, and seeing your doctor if they have a potentially infected bite. Depending on the symptoms, the condition can be severe. There have been rare cases where babesiosis was fatal.

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Hemolytic Anemia

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Hemolytic anemia is one of the potential complications of a babesiosis infection. This condition occurs when an individual's red blood cells are destroyed at a rate faster than they're being made. In turn, this causes patients to have a lower amount of red blood cells than they need, which is why this is a form of anemia. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, supplying the heart and brain and muscle tissues with the oxygen they need to function properly. The bone marrow produces red blood cells.

When hemolytic anemia is caused by babesiosis, it's usually the extrinsic form of the disease. There are multiple ways extrinsic hemolytic anemia can form. If an autoimmune reaction occurs or the spleen destroys healthy blood cells, it can lead to this condition. Parasitic infections like babesiosis can also cause this if they destroy red blood cells at rapid rates. Other potential causes of this condition include bacterial or viral infections that destroy blood cells, tumors, medication side effects, lymphoma, and leukemia.

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Fever

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A fever occurs when an individual's body temperature rises because of an illness or infection. Fevers are often the first sign there's a problem with an individual's body, though it's not typically cause for concern in adults unless it reaches a high temperature. High temperatures are considered anything reaching 103 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Fevers should always be taken seriously in toddlers and infants, though, as even slightly elevated temperatures could indicate they have a serious infection. Individuals should call a doctor if they have a fever that reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. They should also call if they experience serious symptoms like unusual skin rashes, pain when bending their head forward, unusual light sensitivity, severe headaches, confusion, chest pain, trouble breathing, pain when urinating, abdominal pain, or seizures. Some of these symptoms can be caused by babesiosis, while others may be caused by other underlying conditions. A fever is part of the body's way of fighting off infection, and it shouldn't always be reduced if it's not at dangerous levels.

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Malaise And Fatigue

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Malaise and fatigue are some of the initial symptoms of babesiosis. These symptoms tend to set in between one and four weeks after exposure to the tick. They might be accompanied by a fever, loss of appetite, or aching in joints and muscles. Most patients who experience serious symptoms are those over fifty years old, with a compromised immune system, or who have had a splenectomy. The majority of infected individuals have immune systems strong enough to fight the parasite on their own.

Malaise is a feeling that's hard to pin down. It can involve pain, discomfort, or uneasiness. These feelings don't appear to have any pinpointed cause. Fatigue can be a sign of a serious underlying condition if it lasts for more than two weeks. An individual experiencing fatigue will feel tired even if they've gotten enough sleep. They may also get tired more quickly than they usually do, and they may need to take naps throughout the day.

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Muscle And Joint Pain

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Muscle and joint pain are less common symptoms that can occur early in babesiosis. If the immune system isn't able to fight off the infection without intervention, the pain may become progressively worse and more difficult to ignore. Unexplained muscle and joint pain should generally be evaluated by a doctor. There are dozens of conditions that can cause this kind of pain, and while some will resolve without needing treatment, others are more serious and require ongoing monitoring. In the case of babesiosis, patients may need medical intervention to keep their symptoms from becoming serious and potentially life-threatening. However, joint and muscle pain aren't always an automatic sign of a serious illness. They can sometimes be caused by external issues that resolve by themselves. For example, tension and stress can lead the muscles to become tight and sore. Overuse of muscles or a joint can cause pain. If individuals have persistent and unexplained pain, they should talk to a doctor.

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Nausea And Vomiting

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Nausea and vomiting are symptoms that tend to occur after the early symptoms have already set in, though there's a huge variation in symptoms from person to person. It is possible for someone to experience vomiting and nausea without having any of the more characteristic symptoms of the disease. Pain in the abdomen often accompanies the vomiting and nausea, though this isn't always the case. Some patients may have an enlarged spleen or liver, which can contribute to nausea. If an immune-compromised individual develops babesiosis, they may have damage to their kidneys and impaired liver function that leads to jaundice. Impaired kidney and liver function can further contribute to the feelings of nausea and unwellness. If individuals are experiencing persistent vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain, they should see a doctor. Most causes of these symptoms clear up within a few days, and if their symptoms don't resolve, it's a sign of a serious underlying issue.

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Appetite Loss

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Appetite loss can occur in babesiosis patients due to a combination of different factors. The parasitic invasion of the B microti in the red blood cells causes them to sustain extensive damage to its membrane, inducing apoptosis. When this process reaches a degree where more red blood cells are being destroyed than the patient's body can create, it is referred to as hemolytic anemia. The large amounts of red blood cells destroyed by this parasitic infection have to be cleared from the body by the liver, spleen, and kidneys. Patients experience an enlarged spleen due to the collection of dead red blood cells in the organ. The spleen can become enlarged to the degree that it places pressure on surrounding organs, like the stomach. When there is not enough room in the abdomen for the stomach to expand, the individual loses their appetite or feels full quickly. The kidneys may also fail to remove toxic byproducts from the bloodstream produced by the parasite, which can cause the patient to feel nauseous. Nausea can also cause appetite loss.

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Bruising

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A bruise is the discoloration of the skin when blood has leaked out of a blood vessel and accumulates underneath the skin. Bruises develop when the body is not able to form a blood clot fast enough to stop the blood from accumulating under the skin. The development of bruises in a healthy individual is normal when they are the result of trauma to the affected area of the body. However, individuals with certain abnormalities in their blood can experience excessive bruising because the clotting mechanism in their body does not work properly. A babesiosis patient can develop problems with the function of their kidneys and liver due to having an overwhelming workload. When the kidneys or liver are unable to do their job, it can cause imbalances and abnormalities in the blood. These abnormalities in the blood cause problems with the individual's clotting components like certain clotting proteins and platelets. A reduced clotting ability will make patients more susceptible to developing bruises upon minimal impact.

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Changes In Mood

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Babesiosis occurs when the Babesia microti invade an individual's bloodstream and start ravishing their red blood cells. An individual can remain asymptomatic for several months to several years before they experience preclinical features of the disease. When symptoms do manifest, they are malaria-like and may persist for several weeks. In advanced forms of babesiosis, the Babesia microti cause numerous hematological abnormalities and make their way to the brain tissues. The most common areas of the brain the parasite affects are the prefrontal cortex and the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls the release of a hormone referred to as oxytocin, which is what determines an individual's emotional state, boosting the mood when it is released. The parasitic invasion of the Babesia microti in the hypothalamus causes abnormal and extreme fluctuations in the release of oxytocin. It is the affects of the hematological abnormalities and the direct invasion of the parasite in the brain tissues that cause a babesiosis patient to experience extreme changes in mood.

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Chills

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Chills is a term used to describe when an individual feels sensations of coldness and experiences shivering. When an individual is running a high fever, they will feel cold even if they are not in a cold environment. This cold feeling with a fever is what best characterizes chills that occur due to the presence of some sort of infection in the individual's body. The Babesia microti pathogen causes the patient's immune system to release prostaglandins and cytokines that cause an increase in the set temperature of the internal thermostat of the body. This temperature increase is meant to make the patient's body an inhospitable environment for the infection-causing pathogen. Because the temperature of the air around the individual is lower than their body temperature, they will feel cold. The shivers occur because a mechanism in the body is triggered where the muscles contract involuntarily to help produce more heat.

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Excessive Sweating

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Excessive sweating reported by individuals with babesiosis tends to occur most often at night when they are sleeping. Many patients describe the sweating to be so excessive that it drenches their bedclothes and or sheets to the point where they need to be changed for them to go back to bed. Babesiosis patients tend to experience this type of excessive sweating at a consistent frequency of several times per week. Sweating is a mechanism implemented by the body when the individual's temperature becomes too high. The skin releases fluid and salt onto the surface of the skin, where it evaporates into the air and takes body heat along with it. It is healthy for an individual to sweat in conditions of extreme heat, but it is not normal for them to sweat excessively in a temperature-controlled environment when they are at rest. Sweating occurs in babesiosis patients because the internal thermostat is set at a higher temperature than normal to create a hostile environment for the pathogen causing babesiosis.

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Katherine MacAulay