Ocean County (NJ) officials are warning the public of a tick borne disease that has infected at least six individuals, and it’s not Lyme disease. The disease is the malaria-like parasitic infection, babesiosis.

According to Ocean County health officials, the same tick that is known to spread Lyme disease in New Jersey – the black legged tick or deer tick – especially in its nymph stage which is the size of a poppy seed, also can spread Babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Six cases of Babesiosis, a disease caused by microscopic parasites which infect red blood cells, were recently reported in Ocean County, while another five are being investigated.

Babesia life cycle/CDC
Babesia life cycle/CDC

It is seen most frequently in the Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island) and to a lesser extent in the upper Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin).

The parasite is typically transmitted through a tick bite, Ixodes scapularis in the U.S., from late spring to early fall.

It can also be transmitted through blood transfusions and this is not restricted by geographical regions.

Depending on host factors (people without a spleen, immunocompromised) the disease can range from asymptomatic to life threatening.

Symptoms if present typically appear as non-specific flu like symptoms, fever, chills, body aches, and hemolytic anemia.

The danger for donated blood is that even asymptomatic people may have low-level amount of Babesia in the bloodstream from months to longer than a year making blood transfusion infections an issue. Tests for screening blood donors for Babesia are not available.

After getting infected, the presence of symptoms is variable depending on the host and parasite factors. Typically after tick borne transmission symptoms appear in one to three weeks and it may be weeks to months post blood transfusion.

Laboratory diagnosis of acute cases is by identifying the parasite within red blood cells microscopically. It is sometime difficult to differentiate from the malaria parasite (Plasmodium falciparum).

“When spending time outdoors it’s very important to be vigilant of tick bites,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as liaison to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service of Ocean County. “Ocean County agencies are working together in order to educate and raise awareness so we can keep the number of tick borne illness incidents low.”

“With Ocean County’s large senior population it is important for them and their caregivers to be aware of this illness and to be careful when participating in outdoor activities,” said Vicari, who serves as chairman of Senior Services. Looking for a job in health care? Check here to see what’s available

There are effective treatments available for Babesiosis. If you were bitten by a deer tick or black-legged tick or you find a tick on your body and do not know how long it has been attached you should contact your physician. It is important to discuss whether treatment is needed or treatment options. Your physician may also want to test you for all tick-borne illnesses. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page