Three cases of rare tick-borne disease reported in Chester County

A brown dog tick. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
A brown dog tick. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Posted: August 14, 2013

CHESTER COUNTY health officials are investigating three reported cases of a rare, sometimes fatal tick-borne disease, including one person in serious condition.

The disease is called babesiosis, an infection caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Last year, 11 cases were confirmed in Pennsylvania, none fatal. There have been no confirmed cases this year.

One of the reported cases this year is at Brandywine Hospital, according to a physician who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of privacy laws. The doctor said the patient, an older man, was originally diagnosed with Lyme disease - also a tick-borne illness - before doctors discovered the parasite in blood samples. The man is in intensive care.

The physician said that with the possibility of other cases in the area, the public should be aware, but not overly concerned.

"This may be a harbinger of something to come, or it may just be an unusual occurrence of something," the doctor said, noting that the disease can have flu-like symptoms. "I think [the public] should at least be aware that there's a possibility that it could be something other than the flu."

Chester County spokeswoman Rebecca Brain could not confirm whether there was a reported case at Brandywine, or say where the cases originated from.

There are effective treatments for the disease, and most of those who are infected respond well to the treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the United States, babesiosis is most common in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, and usually peaks during the summer months. The infection can be severe and life-threatening, particularly for those who do not have a spleen, have a weakened immune system or are elderly.

In 2011, the CDC reported 1,124 confirmed and probable cases of babesiosis in 15 states. Of those cases, four deaths were reported, although none was directly attributed to the disease.

The organism has been found in Pennsylvania ticks, according to the state Health Department. Officials recommend that those participating in outdoor activities take precautions to keep ticks off the skin, including wearing protective clothing, using insect repellent and doing a full body check after spending time outdoors.


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