October 6, 2011 at 11:41 am , by Amelia Harnish
Every month our friends at Yahoo! send us a snapshot of the month’s top health searches. I used to expect not to be surprised by what makes the list. After all, I spend a fair amount of time reading health news. The nerd in me likes to try to predict what people were most interested in. Usually I get some right (always on the list: bedbugs), but every month I find a few things that make me think, “What is that about?” Here are the most interesting terms from September’s batch, all of which fell in the top three when Yahoo! looked at what women were digging for.
I definitely never would have guessed this one because I’ve never heard of it. But I’m betting that’s exactly why it was near the top—no one had heard of it, until a recent study in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases found that it’s on the rise, made some headlines and sent everyone to their search bars to learn more.
So what is it? Unfortunately it is not a mutant bacterium that will turn you into a total babe, as I was hoping. It’s a parasite that attacks your red blood cells. Like Lyme disease, babesiosis is spread by deer ticks, and it can cause similar symptoms including high fever, headache and muscle aches. But it’s much harder to diagnose because there’s no telltale rash, and many people who are infected have no symptoms at all. While it is treated with antibiotics, it can be fatal in people with compromised immune systems, like if you have cancer or you’ve had your spleen removed. Treatment isn’t necessary if you’re not experiencing symptoms, but what’s startling is babesiosis’ potential to spread through donated blood. There isn’t a screening test yet, so people could be passing the parasite along unknowingly at local blood drives. And because blood is donated most often to people in a compromised state, this could be really dangerous.