Babesiosis, a zoonosis caused by the protozoan Babesia microti, is usually not treated when the symptoms are mild, because the parasitemia appears to be transient. However, the microscopical methods used to diagnose this infection are insensitive, and few infected people have been followed longitudinally. We compared the duration of parasitemia in people who had received specific antibabesial therapy with that in silently infected people who had not been treated.
Forty-six babesia-infected subjects were identified from 1991 through 1996 in a prospective, community-based study designed to detect episodes of illness and of seroconversion among the residents of southeastern Connecticut and Block Island, Rhode Island. Subjects with acute babesial illness were monitored every 3 months for up to 27 months by means of thin blood smears, Bab. microti polymerase-chain-reaction assays, serologic tests, and questionnaires.
Babesial DNA persisted in the blood for a mean of 82 days in 24 infected subjects without specific symptoms who received no specific therapy. Babesial DNA persisted for 16 days in 22 acutely ill subjects who received clindamycin and quinine therapy (P=0.03), of whom 9 had side effects from the treatment. Among the subjects who did not receive specific therapy, symptoms of babesiosis persisted for a mean of 114 days in five subjects with babesial DNA present for 3 or more months and for only 15 days in seven others in whom the DNA was detectable for less than 3 months (P<0.05); one subject had recrudescent disease after two years.
When left untreated, silent babesial infection may persist for months or even years. Although treatment with clindamycin and quinine reduces the duration of parasitemia, infection may still persist and recrudesce and side effects are common. Improved treatments are needed.