Tick disease on the rise

PROVIDENCE, RI – Rhode Island is seeing a spike in cases of babesiosis, a little known tick disease that can be fatal to the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

Fifteen years ago Rhode Island averaged one or two cases of babesiosis a year. Last year, 76 cases were reported. Thomas Mather, director of URI's Center for Vector Borne Disease, says some of the increase may be due to improved diagnosis. But it's also due to an increase in the tick population.

"More people are encountering more ticks in more places and those ticks are potentially more likely to be infected with babesia parasite. And that's why I think we're seeing an increase in the number of cases," says Mather.

The disease can go unnoticed in a healthy adult but its flu-like symptoms can hospitalize and even kill an elderly person or a person with immunity issues. Mather says doctors who suspect Lyme disease should also be testing people for the babesia parasite.

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