OBJECTIVE: To determine whether patients coinfected with Lyme disease and babesiosis in sites where both diseases are zoonotic experience a greater number of symptoms for a longer period of time than those with either infection alone.
DESIGN: Community-based, yearly serosurvey and clinic-based cohort study.
SETTING: Island community in Rhode Island and 2 Connecticut medical clinics from 1990 to 1994.
STUDY PARTICIPANTS: Long-term residents of the island community and patients seeking treatment at the clinics.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Seroreactivity to the agents of Lyme disease and babesiosis and number and duration of symptoms.
RESULTS: Of 1156 serosurvey subjects, 97 (8.4%) were seroreactive against Lyme disease spirochete antigen, of whom 14 (14%) also were seroreactive against babesial antigen. Of 240 patients diagnosed with Lyme disease, 26 (11%) were coinfected with babesiosis. Coinfected patients experienced fatigue (P = .002), headache (P < .001), sweats (P < .001), chills (P = .03), anorexia (P = .04), emotional lability (P = .02), nausea (P = .004), conjunctivitis (P = .04), and splenomegaly (P = .01) more frequently than those with Lyme disease alone. Thirteen (50%) of 26 coinfected patients were symptomatic for 3 months or longer compared with 7 (4%) of the 184 patients with Lyme disease alone from whom follow-up data were available (P < .001). Patients coinfected with Lyme disease experienced more symptoms and a more persistent episode of illness than did those (n = 10) experiencing babesial infection alone. Circulating spirochetal DNA was detected more than 3 times as often in coinfected patients as in those with Lyme disease alone (P = .06).
CONCLUSIONS: Approximately 10% of patients with Lyme disease in southern New England are coinfected with babesiosis in sites where both diseases are zoonotic. The number of symptoms and duration of illness in patients with concurrent Lyme disease and babesiosis are greater than in patients with either infection alone. In areas where both Lyme disease and babesiosis have been reported, the possibility of concomitant babesial infection should be considered when moderate to severe Lyme disease has been diagnosed.