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Tick-Borne Disease May Be Linked to Transfusions

CDC Reports Rare Cases of Babesiosis From Blood Transfusions
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Development of a Screening Test

Although most cases are caused by ticks, babesiosis can occur following a blood transfusion if the donor was infected. People with a history of babesiosis are not allowed to donate blood. Because symptoms of the disease can be mild to nonexistent, some donors are unaware that they have had the disease.

Currently, there is no FDA-approved tool to screen blood donors for babesiosis. That may change within the next few years.

"We are working with companies to try to help them get an FDA-approved test," says Richard Benjamin, MD, PhD. Benjamin is the chief medical officer of the American Red Cross Biomedical Services. He was not involved in the CDC report. "This paper is one way to get industry more focused on this issue."

Benjamin echoes Herwaldt's concerns about the significance of the problem. He says the report makes clear that the extent of known cases had been previously underreported.

"The big surprise in the paper is the numbers," he says. "Previously, if you'd asked me, I would have said 70 to 100. The report documents about twice as many."

The actual number of cases that occur in a given year is unknown. The disease, even in cases that cause severe symptoms, are often missed or misdiagnosed. As Herwaldt and her colleagues write, the 162 cases in the report "undoubtedly represent a fraction of those that occurred."

"Sufficient cases have been documented to demand a response," Benjamin says.

"If you have a medical condition that requires a blood transfusion," he says. "I would not be afraid. This is not HIV."

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