Tick-borne infections can result in neurological symptoms, as is the case with babesiosis.
Whenever someone tells me they found a tick bite or got diagnosed with Lyme disease, I always reply, “Make sure you’re evaluated for co-infections, too, or you might only be fighting half the battle.” Awareness of other tick-borne diseases like babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Powassan virus is important because some co-infections require different treatment than Lyme disease. For example, babesiosis, a tick-borne parasite that affects the red blood cells, is often treated with anti-malarial medication.
In order to be properly treated for co-infections, you need to be properly diagnosed with them, and in order for that to happen, both patients and physicians need to be on the lookout for specific symptoms. Symptoms of babesiosis can include fever, sweats, chills, myalgias (muscle aches and pains), air hunger, lightheadedness, weakness, shortness of breath, hemolytic anemia, jaundice, low platelet count, anorexia, headache, nausea, vomiting, congestive heart failure, and renal failure. A new study warns of another serious manifestation of babesiosis: neurological issues.
A Case Study
Published in Cureus in July 2022, “Atypical Presentation of Babesiosis with Neurological Manifestations as Well as Hematological Manifestations” is a case study of two patients with confusion/cognitive impairment, slurred speech, ataxia (poor muscle control), fever, myalgias, chills and urinary frequency and urgency. The patients were treated for babesiosis (as well as Lyme and anaplasmosis, and Mycoplasma in the second patient). The study reports, “Following two days of treatment, cognition, as well as speech, improved dramatically.” Both patients were treated successfully after a total of 10 days.
The study notes that neurological manifestations of babesiosis are “exceedingly rare but could be fatal if left undiagnosed.” It’s therefore important not just for people to consider babesiosis when they have a sudden onset of neurological symptoms—particularly if they’ve been bitten by a tick or have spent time in tick-endemic areas—but also for those of us who already have babesiosis to consider that it could be flaring if we have neurological symptoms. I tend to notice my own babesiosis flare-ups when I start having night sweats and air hunger. But when my neurological symptoms flare, I usually assume it’s my “Lyme brain” acting up. In the future, I will talk to my doctor about babesiosis during these periods, to see if medication adjustments should focus on Lyme, babesiosis, or both.
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The above material is provided for information purposes only. The material (a) is not nor should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor (b) does it necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of Global Lyme Alliance, Inc. or any of its directors, officers, advisors or volunteers. Advice on the testing, treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. Her work has appeared in local and national publications including Harvard Health Publishing and The Boston Globe. As a GLA columnist for over six years, her work on GLA.org has received mention in publications such as The New Yorker, weatherchannel.com, CQ Researcher, and ProHealth.com. Jennifer is a patient advocate who has dealt with chronic illness, including Lyme and other tick-borne infections. Her memoir about her medical journey is forthcoming. Contact her via email below.