Health experts warn of new tick-borne threat

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INDIANAPOLIS - Certain ticks are passing along an illness that few Hoosiers know anything about.

Sarah Robertson and Marilyn Bradley are finishing a long walk through Fort Harrison State Park unaware of what has become a significant health threat spread by a tick.

"No. Never thought about ticks. I stay on the paths," said Marilyn Bradley, Indianapolis.

"In a wooded area you have to be careful. I've heard of a lot of ticks this spring," said Sarah Robertson, Noblesville.

The microscopic parasite is carried by deer ticks, the same type that can pass along Lyme disease. Known as babesiosis, the parasite attack blood cells in humans that can result in death.

Babesiosis is traveling from the northeast and appeared in Wisconsin and Minnesota last summer. While there haven't been any reported human cases in Indiana, it doesn't mean the disease isn't here.

"It could very well be traveling into Indiana," said Dr. Jennifer House with the Indiana Department of Health. House says it's a concern.

Babesiosis has become a health threat in the northeastern United States and experts believe that it's spreading west, causing a variety of flu-like symptoms.

About 1,000 cases are reported each year, but health officials say that many people don't even know that they're infected. For those with weakened immune systems, it can be deadly.

Unlike Lyme disease's telltale rash, most people don't know they're harboring the parasite, resulting in what health officials say is an under-reported disease among many other tick-borne health threats.

"We should be concerned about any tick-transmitted diseases. In Indiana, we have confirmed cases of Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and ehrlichiosis and all of these diseases can cause significant health problems," said Dr. House.

Health officials say it's another reason for people to protect themselves outdoors from a parasite that can cause severe health problems.

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