Transfusion-transmitted Babesia spp.: bull's-eye on Babesia microti.
Babesia spp. are intraerythrocytic protozoan parasites of animals and humans that cause babesiosis, a zoonotic disease transmitted primarily by tick vectors. Although a variety of species or types of Babesia have been described in the literature as causing infection in humans, the rodent parasite Babesia microti has emerged as the focal point of human disease, especially in the United States. Not only has B. microti become established as a public health concern, this agent is increasingly being transmitted by blood transfusion: estimates suggest that between 70 and 100 cases of transfusion-transmitted Babesia (TTB) have occurred over the last 30 years. A recent upsurge in TTB cases attributable to B. microti, coupled with at least 12 fatalities in transfusion recipients diagnosed with babesiosis, has elevated TTB to a key policy issue in transfusion medicine. Despite clarity on a need to mitigate transmission risk, few options are currently available to prevent the transmission of B. microti by blood transfusion. Future mitigation efforts may stress serological screening of blood donors in regionalized areas of endemicity, with adjunct nucleic acid testing during the summer months, when acute infections are prevalent. However, several hurdles remain, including the absence of a licensed blood screening assay and a thorough cost-benefit analysis of proposed interventions. Despite current obstacles, continued discussion of TTB without proactive intervention is no longer a viable alternative.