Babesiosis (buh-BEE-zee-oh-sis) andehrlichiosis cases are stilll far outpaced by Lyme disease. Physicians who are current on tick-borne illnesses find a percentage of their Lyme patients are co-infected. Andrea Gaito, a rheumatologist from Basking Ridge and president of the International Lyme Society, said 13% of her Lyme patients are also infected with babesiosis or ehrlichiosis. She described one patient she saw recently: "This patient's Lyme test came back positive. She was being treated by a physical therapist who said to her, 'Something's wrong. You should be getting better.' She came to me and I tested her. It turns out her Ehrlichia levels were off the wall."
All three diseases are carried predominately by the deer tick and have similar symptoms, but they attack the body in different ways and require different treatments. Lyme is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacteria called spirochetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says long term complications can include arthritis, numbness and pain. It is distinguished by the characteristic bull's eye rash and treated with antibiotics. Babesiosis is actually a parasitic organism. Infected blood can be mistaken for malaria. Patients may suffer from an enlarged spleen, said Philip Paparone, an infectious disease physician and Lyme expert in Atlantic County. Babesiosis patients may also be anemic, and can experience severe night sweats. Antiparasitic drugs, such as quinine, are used to treat the disease. Debate exists over whether the disease carries long term symptoms, such as muscle aches and fatigue. Some doctors say blood smears examined under a microscope do not always detect babesiosis, and so more sophisticated tests are necessary. The disease can also be transmitted through blood transfusions.