Babesiosis – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Babesiosis is the name of a worldwide infectious disease. It is caused by Babesia, which is a parasite.

What is babesiosis?

Babesiosis is a relatively rare infectious disease that occurs around the world. They are transmitted by ticks , through which the actual causative agent, the Babesia, enters the human or animal body. These intracellular small parasites, belonging to the Babesia genus, infest the red blood cells ( erythrocytes ) of affected individuals.

The term babesiosis goes back to the Romanian-born pathologist Victor Babes (1854-1926), who first described babesia in 1888 when it caused hemoglobinuria in Romanian cattle. The infection resulted in tens of thousands of dead cattle. In 1889 the American pathologist Theobald Smith (1859-1934) identified the Babesia bigemina genus as the cause of the cattle disease Texas fever. He later found out that the protozoon was transmitted by ticks.

It was not until 1956 that the first case of Babesia was registered in humans. In that year, a patient died in Yugoslavia who no longer had a spleen and was suffering from a fulminant infection. Since further cases of Babesia were repeated in people who no longer had a spleen, the doctors initially assumed that only such patients were at risk of developing the disease.

While the genus Babesia divergens is primarily responsible for diseases on the European continent, infections in the USA are mostly caused by Babesia microti. Overall, babesiosis is one of the rare diseases. It is considered particularly dangerous for people who suffer from immune deficiencies such as AIDS or who have had to undergo a spleen removal ( splenectomy ). Because the course and symptoms of babesiosis are similar to malaria , the disease is also called malaria’s little sister .


Babesiosis is caused by Babesia, which is one of the unicellular spores. The parasites are transmitted to humans by ticks belonging to the Ixodes genus, such as the wood tick (Ixodes ricinus). This tick species is particularly widespread in Central Europe. In some cases, Babesia was also transmitted through blood transfusions .

These were infected with the Babesia. There is a risk that people suffering from babesiosis will still carry the pathogen through a blood donation even after their disease has been cured and pass it on to other people in this way.

For several decades, doctors have mistakenly assumed that babesiosis only occurs in people who have had their spleen surgically removed.

Therefore, people without a spleen are considered more susceptible to infections. However, over the years, infections have also been found in people who still had a spleen. However, there is usually resistance to Babesia when the spleen is still present.

Just like the pathogens that cause malaria, Babesia belong to the protozoa. They attack the red blood cells in the human body, which leads to haemolysis , the extent of which depends on the density of the parasites. Babesia can reproduce asexually within the erythrocytes. However, this only leads to divisions.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The symptoms of babesiosis are similar to those of malaria. They stay that way for a period of time, then slowly recede and reappear later. The incubation period for babesiosis is between one and four weeks.

The typical first signs are loss of appetite , exhaustion , nausea , malaise and weight loss . After a few days, the patients suffer from a continuously increasing high fever , profuse sweating , chills , intense headaches and body aches . Jaundice , severe anemia and even kidney failure are also possible.

Diagnosis & History

Babesiosis is diagnosed by detecting the pathogen. For this purpose, the doctor takes a blood smear from the patient , which is then examined under a microscope. Babesia can be visualized within the affected red blood cells. Due to the high number of pathogens, the diagnosis is not classified as difficult.

As an alternative, cultivating the parasites is also possible. This method can be used to detect infections that often remain undetected in the blood smear due to the low pathogen density. Due to the low number of cases in humans, it is not possible to accurately predict the course of babesiosis.

So far, no systematic investigations have been carried out. Severe or even fatal courses are rare and mainly affect people whose immune system is weakened.


The complications of babesiosis are similar to the symptoms of malaria. In the worst case, this can even lead to the death of the patient if the disease is not treated. Immediate medical treatment is therefore necessary for babesiosis to prevent consequential damage and serious complications.

In most cases, a very high fever occurs after transmission of babesiosis. The patient’s temperature can reach up to 42 degrees Celsius and thus rises to a life-threatening condition. In addition to the high fever, there is a loss of appetite, fatigue, diarrhea and headaches.

Often there is also a strong weight loss, which generally has a negative effect on the health of the body. In addition to these symptoms, there are also inflammations on the skin, which are painful and can spread over the entire body. Limbs become paralyzed, leaving the patient severely restricted and in many cases unable to move.

Antibiotics are used in treatment. These do not lead to any further complaints and in most cases the treatment proceeds without complications.

When should you go to the doctor?

Those affected should go to the doctor immediately with babesiosis. A medical clarification is recommended at the first sign of the infectious disease. For example, anyone who suffers from loss of appetite, nausea or an inexplicable weight loss should discuss these symptoms with their family doctor . Fever symptoms appearing after a few days indicate an infection that needs to be treated. Immediate medical attention is required if severe symptoms such as jaundice, anemia or kidney failure occur.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, an emergency doctor must be alerted. Although the disease is rarely fatal, subsequent symptoms can only be prevented with prompt treatment. People who suffer from the symptoms mentioned after a tick bite should also see a doctor.

Babesiosis is commonly transmitted by ticks and other parasites. If the symptoms occur shortly after a walk in the countryside or after contact with animals, it may be babesiosis. A doctor must diagnose the disease and, if necessary, initiate treatment immediately.

Treatment & Therapy

In the early years, babesiosis was treated with common anti-malaria drugs. However, since these were unsuccessful, they were no longer used. Later, a combination of cindamycin and quinine was successfully tried, which significantly reduced the number of pathogens. However, more recent studies have shown that quinine is ineffective against Babesia divergens.

The medication against babesiosis is taken for seven days, with close monitoring by the doctor. But even after the treatment, the patient may still suffer from symptoms such as a slight fever, tiredness and malaise for a few weeks or months. If the number of Babesia in the blood is high or if there is an immune deficiency, an exchange transfusion is recommended.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis of babesiosis depends on the patient’s state of health, the diagnosis and the earliest possible start of treatment. Without medical treatment, the pathogens spread continuously in the body.

They inexorably weaken the organism and trigger various ailments. The risk of organ failure or death from the disease increases. In severe cases, kidney failure or a breakdown of the immune system occurs. Both have a very high risk of death.

With medical treatment, symptoms are usually relieved within a few days or weeks. The after-effects of the disease may persist for several months. The patient usually only recovers slowly until they are free of symptoms. During the recovery period, the patient must protect himself sufficiently from overexertion or new illnesses. He risks a relapse and a lengthening of the healing path.

The prospect of a cure worsens overall in people with previous illnesses and a weakened organism. If there is a drug intolerance , the healing process is also significantly prolonged. The alternative agents are less efficient, resulting in a delay in recovery. A healthy lifestyle helps to improve prospects. Sufficient sleep, the use of relaxation techniques and the avoidance of harmful substances are considered to be particularly supportive.


The best preventive measure against babesiosis is protection against tick infestation. Tick ​​bites usually cause the infection.


Regular follow-up care is important after treatment for babesiosis. In the first few weeks after the end of the therapy, the patient has to go to the family doctor every two to four weeks. The doctor can monitor the healing process by taking a medical history and taking blood if necessary.

If the course is positive, the frequency of medical examinations can be reduced. After three months, follow-up care is no longer necessary as long as the babesiosis subsides without further complications. Nevertheless, the family doctor should still be consulted for routine examinations in the first few months after the end of treatment.

A comprehensive physical examination must take place every two months, especially in the case of serious illnesses, which are often associated with permanent skin and organ damage. Babesiosis requires lengthy antibiotic therapy. During the follow-up care, the prescribed medication must be gradually tapered off.

If there are no complications and the babesiosis has completely resolved, follow-up care lasts between one and three months. The patient should consult the doctor during the therapy and arrange the necessary check-up appointments at an early stage. Babesiosis can occasionally lead to permanent skin changes. In order to avoid effects on the mental state, it is advisable to consult a therapist.

You can do that yourself

Human babesiosis is primarily treated with antibiotics . Relaxation , drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough sleep are also recommended . In the early stages, the disease can be treated well with physical rest and the administration of drugs.

Some natural medicinal plants help against headaches and muscle pain . The antiseptic angelica , which is best used immediately after the infection, or the decongestant St. John’s wort , which can be used at a later stage, have proven effective. The use of alternative remedies should always be discussed with the responsible doctor. When used responsibly, rosemary , juniper and lavender can also help to relieve symptoms quickly.

However, slight fever, nausea and fatigue can still occur weeks or months after the treatment. Effective countermeasures are exercise, a healthy diet and regular medical check-ups. The medical advice not only explains the risks of babesiosis.

The doctor can usually give practical precautionary tips against insect bites . If babesiosis occurs in connection with Lyme disease , further consultations are sometimes useful. Participation in self-help groups is recommended for severe physical or mental problems.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.