What is Babesiosis?
Babesiosis is caused by a tiny parasite called Babesia that infects red blood cells. The parasite is spread from animals to humans via a bite from an infected tick. Most people with Babesiosis do not feel sick and do not even remember being bitten by a tick. Some people may have mild flu-like symptoms and recover completely. However, Babesiosis can be a severe and life-threatening infection for hospitalized patients who need a blood transfusion.
Is the Babesiosis parasite found in Canada?
The ticks that can carry the Babesia parasite are found in Canada, but so far surveys of these ticks have found very few that are infected with these parasites. In the northeastern and midwestern United States, cases of Babesiosis are fairly common. There have been more than 150 cases of transfusion transmission to blood recipients reported in the U.S.
In 2013, we conducted a study to understand what risk Babesia might cause to the blood supply in Canada. We tested samples from 14,000 blood donors in Canada. At that time we concluded there to be a very low risk to the Canadian blood supply because the study found no positive donors.
In order to understand what the current risk of Babesia may be to the blood supply, Canadian Blood Services, in collaboration with Héma-Québec and the American Red Cross, is conducting a second study from July to November 2018. Specimens from donations collected at selected blood donor clinics from across Canada will be tested for Babesiosis. A total of 50,000 Canadian blood donors from right across the country will be tested, making this a much larger study than our previous one in 2013. This study is an important step in gathering the evidence needed to determine if additional safety measures from Babesia are necessary in Canada.
For further information about the Babesiosis Study, please contact:
Dr. Sheila O’Brien, Associate Director, Epidemiology and Surveillance
For all media inquiries, please contact:
Learn more about Babesiosis from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.