Babesiosis Cases on the Rise: Tafenoquine as Better Treatment?

Photo of Nantucket lighthouse and beachgrassNPR‘s Allison Aubrey (06.10.2024) published, “Once called Nantucket fever, this nasty tick-borne illness is on the rise.” The tick-borne parasitic infection, babesiosis, was first identified in the US in 1969 on Nantucket Island. As blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) expand their range, a significant increase in incidence for this disease has been reported by the CDC over the last decade.

Response to a babesiosis infection can vary widely. Some people that get infected are actually asymptomatic. Younger people usually experience only mild illness with a fever that can take days to weeks to subside. But, some older adults (over 50) or those that are immune compromised may experience illness requiring hospitalization, and multiple relapses of infection.

Though a combination of anti-parasitic drugs (azithromycin combined with atovaquone) can treat babesiosis, sometimes this combination isn’t effective in eradicating the parasite, and relapse of the illness is possible. Researchers are beginning a clinical trial this month to determine if the anti-malaria drug, tafenoquine, in combination with current treatment drugs, can improve recovery and eradicate the parasite from patients’ bodies faster. 

small case study on the use of tafenoquine against babesiosis was published last month. When doctors added tafenoquine to these patients’ treatments, they felt better, symptoms went away, and organisms could no longer be detected in their blood. Initial findings show that this drug is beneficial for immune compromised patients with tough to treat babesiosis infections. Tafenoquine is approved by the FDA for malaria treatment and prevention, however many doctors are using tafenoquine ‘off-label’ to treat babesiosis patients. The hope is that additional research may expand FDA approval of the drug for treatment of babesiosis.

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Read the NPR Article

Read more LDA Articles on Babesiosis