My wife just LOVES deer. Me, I’m not so sure. They are gentle and lovely. But deer also carry ticks, which are a big problem.

You probably thought I meant Lyme disease there, didn’tcha? Well no, I mean something far deadlier.

Deer ticks also carry babesiosis. It’s one of the parasites diseases I covered in my groundbreaking Parasites Handbook.

Move over, Lyme disease: Another tick-borne illness is on the rise in various parts of the country, and this one can kill.

Known as babesiosis, the disease is caused by a microscopic parasite that attacks blood cells, causing flu-like symptoms that can make it difficult to accurately diagnose. Like Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria, babesia microti parasites are carried by deer ticks.

First documented in Massachusetts in 1969, the once-obscure babesiosis has surfaced as a significant public health threat in parts of the Northeast and Upper Midwest over the last several years.

A recent study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed that between 2001 and 2008 cases climbed from 6 to 119 in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley — a 20-fold regional increase.

And many cases may be escaping detection, experts say. It’s being under-reported.

About 1,000 cases are reported annually in affected locales, Krause said, but many people with babesiosis have no symptoms and never know they’re harboring the parasite. For others, symptoms can include high fever, severe headache, fatigue, chills, and muscle aches and pains. It is treated with antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics.

Unfortunately, many cases are symptom free. If they donate blood and the babesiosis isn’t picked up, the results can be severe. About 30% of compromised transfusion recipients die.

To help prevent babesiosis, the CDC advises people with compromised immune systems or other vulnerabilities to avoid tick-infested wooded areas, particularly during warm months. It’s not such a big deal out here in the dry deserts of the West, where I live. But it IS spreading.

Normal tick advisories apply.

May 2011, Emerging Infectious Diseases