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.
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.
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.
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.