Background. Human babesiosis is a tick-transmitted zoonosis associated with two protozoa of the family Piroplasmorida: Babesia microti (in the United States) and B. divergens (in Europe). Recently, infection with an unusual babesia-like piroplasm (designated WA1) was described in a patient from Washington State. We studied four patients in California who were identified as being infected with a similar protozoal parasite. All four patients had undergone splenectomy, two because of trauma and two for other medical reasons. Two of the patients had complicated courses, and one died. Methods. Piroplasm-specific nuclear small-subunit ribosomal DNA was recovered from the blood of the four patients by amplification with the polymerase chain reaction. The genetic sequences were compared with those of other known piroplasm species. Indirect immunofluorescent-antibody testing of serum from the four patients and from other potentially exposed persons was performed with WA1 and babesia antigens. Results. Genetic sequence analysis showed that the organisms from all four patients were nearly identical. Phylogenic analysis showed that this strain is more closely related to a known canine pathogen (B. gibsoni) and to theileria species than to some members of the genus babesia. Serum from three of the patients was reactive to WA1 but not to B. microti antigen. Serologic testing showed WA1-antibody seroprevalence rates of 16 percent (8 of 51 persons at risk) and 3.5 percent (4 of 115) in two geographically distinct areas of northern California. Conclusions. A newly identified babesia-like organism causes infections in humans in the western United States. The clinical spectrum associated with infection with this protozoan ranges from asymptomatic infection or influenza-like illness to fulminant, fatal disease.
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