Friday, November 24, 2006

What are babesiosis and Chagas disease?

Who's asking: Me (yes, I know I've given myself two questions in a row; it's my blog, dammit)

I'm off to give blood this morning at the Gardiner Lions' Club, and will have to fill out the usual questionnaire about whether I've ever been in prison, gotten tattooed, or used needles for illicit drugs (in case you were wondering: No. No. No.). The questionnaire also asks about various exotic diseases, including these two.

I've always figured that if I've never heard of them, I haven't had them, but this may not necessarily be true for babesiosis. Babesiosis is a parasitic infection carried by northern deer ticks, which are rampant up here. People with Lyme disease -- carried by those same ticks -- often have babesiosis as well.

The most common form of babesiosis in the United States is often asymptomatic, but severe cases can cause symptoms similar to malaria: fever, chills, muscle aches and weakness, fatigue and an enlarged spleen. Treatment for babesiosis is also similar to that for malaria, with a combination of antibiotic and antiparasitic medications.

Chagas disease is another parasitic infection, endemic to South America. Chagas disease is transmitted by the so-called "kissing bugs" (triatomine bugs) that live in cracks and holes of substandard housing through Latin America. Again, many people with the disease never display any symptoms, but in severe cases it can cause brain damage, organ enlargement, fever, chronic fatigue and even death. The CDC estimates that chronic Chagas infection decreases victims' life-spans by an average of nine years.

Since both of these illnesses are bloodborne, it's a good thing the Red Cross asks about them. For hypochondriacs like me, though, it's just one more thing to worry about...

What I Read This Week

Scott Smith, The Ruins. Uh... we waited 12 years for this? Smith follows his dazzling 1994 debut, A Simple Plan, with this horror novel about a group of young people who take a foolhardy trip into the Mexican jungle, and live just long enough to regret it. People whose opinions I respect have raved about this book as an exercise in suspense, but not even one of these characters seemed real enough for me to care what happened to them. Bleah, bleah and once again bleah. I felt quite cranky about this.

Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses. An inspired, entertaining look at how civilization has been shaped by the invention, development and distribution of six key human beverages: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola. Great fun, full of fascinating tidbits of information and insights about what each culture's choice of beverage says about it.


JIM LAMB said...

I think that hypochondria can be useful to some degree. If I had been more sensitive to the dangers of untreated minor infrctions and gotten better and more effective medical treatment, I might have avoided a near major calamity. I could cite other examples, but my typing is much too slow and I have to go to work.

The important thing about it is to DO something about it. Get regular medical care and then do what the doctor tells you to do!

That said, I still won't give up my alcohol, just as your mother wouldn't give up smoking.

Take care of yourself. It's still not too late to marry a good doctor.

Love, Dad

Anonymous said...

I had babesiosis when i was in 7th grade. I had a chronic form of it and it caused me to get really really sick. I had constant migraines, bad fatigue, my heart rate would skyrocket when i did minimal exercise (i played basketball but always was the one kid running behind everyone because i couldnt catch up) and i would get a cold sweat. I went to a millon doctors and finally my mom insisted i see an infectious disease doctor cause she thought it was maybe limes disease. turns out i had babesiosis and had to take all this crazy medicine asap since i had such an intense form of it (he said i had probably had it for many many years). but now im not allowed to give blood, ever, because even though im treated and have no symptoms i still have the disease and can transmit it to people through blood. haha the people at the blood donation place are always thrown off when they see that i had the disease. well anyway i thought that would contribute to your blog! haha