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DPDx is an education resource designed for health professionals and laboratory scientists. For an overview including prevention and control visit www.cdc.gov/parasites/babesiosis.

Babesiosis

[Babesia divergens] [Babesia duncani] [Babesia microti] [Babesia MO-1]

Babesia sp. in a thin blood smear stained with Giemsa.

Babesia sp. in a thin blood smear stained with Giemsa.


Ventral view of a nymph of Ixodes sp. Image courtesy of the Washington State Public Health Laboratories.

Ventral view of a nymph of Ixodes sp. Image courtesy of the Washington State Public Health Laboratories.

Causal Agents

Babesiosis is caused by apicomplexan parasites of the genus, Babesia. While more than 100 species have been reported, only a few have been identified as causing human infections, including B. microti, B. divergens, B. duncani, and a currently un-named strain designated MO-1.


Life Cycle

Life cycle of babesia

The Babesia microti life cycle involves two hosts, which includes a rodent, primarily the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus, and a tick in the genus, Ixodes. During a blood meal, a Babesia-infected tick introduces sporozoites into the mouse host The Number 1. Sporozoites enter erythrocytes and undergo asexual reproduction (budding) The Number 2. In the blood, some parasites differentiate into male and female gametes although these cannot be distinguished at the light microscope level The Number 3. The definitive host is the tick. Once ingested by an appropriate tick The Number 4, gametes unite and undergo a sporogonic cycle resulting in sporozoites The Number 5. Transovarial transmission (also known as vertical, or hereditary, transmission) has been documented for "large" Babesia spp. but not for the "small" babesiae, such as B. microti The Letter A.

Humans enter the cycle when bitten by infected ticks. During a blood meal, a Babesia-infected tick introduces sporozoites into the human host The Number 6. Sporozoites enter erythrocytes The Letter B and undergo asexual replication (budding) The Number 7. Multiplication of the blood stage parasites is responsible for the clinical manifestations of the disease. Humans are, for all practical purposes, dead-end hosts and there is probably little, if any, subsequent transmission that occurs from ticks feeding on infected persons. However, human to human transmission is well recognized to occur through blood transfusions The Number 8.

Geographic Distribution

Worldwide, but little is known about the prevalence of Babesia in malaria-endemic countries, where misidentification as Plasmodium probably occurs. In Europe, most reported cases are due to B. divergens and occur in splenectomized patients. In the United States, B. microti is the agent most frequently identified (Northeast and Midwest), and can occur in nonsplenectomized individuals. Babesia duncani has been isolated in patients in Washington and California. MO-1 has been isolated from patients in Missouri.

Clinical Presentation

Most infections are probably asymptomatic, as indicated by serologic surveys. Manifestations of disease include fever, chills, sweating, myalgias, fatigue, hepatosplenomegaly, and hemolytic anemia. Symptoms typically occur after an incubation period of 1 to 4 weeks, and can last several weeks. The disease is more severe in patients who are immunosuppressed, splenectomized, and/or elderly. Infections caused by B. divergens tend to be more severe (frequently fatal if not appropriately treated) than those due to B. microti, where clinical recovery usually occurs.

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  • Page last reviewed November 29, 2013
  • Page last updated November 29, 2013
  • Content source: Global Health - Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria
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