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Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2013 Nov;13(11):784-90. doi: 10.1089/vbz.2011.0935. Epub 2013 Oct 9.

Quantitative PCR for detection of Babesia microti in Ixodes scapularis ticks and in human blood.

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1 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale School of Public Health , New Haven, Connecticut.


Babesia microti, the primary cause of human babesiosis in the United States, is transmitted by Ixodes scapularis ticks; transmission may also occur through blood transfusion and transplacentally. Most infected people experience a viral-like illness that resolves without complication, but those who are immunocompromised may develop a serious and prolonged illness that is sometimes fatal. The geographic expansion and increasing incidence of human babesiosis in the northeastern and midwestern United States highlight the need for high-throughput sensitive and specific assays to detect parasites in both ticks and humans with the goals of improving epidemiological surveillance, diagnosis of acute infections, and screening of the blood supply. Accordingly, we developed a B. microti-specific quantitative PCR (qPCR) assay (named BabMq18) designed to detect B. microti DNA in tick and human blood samples using a primer and probe combination that targets the 18S rRNA gene of B. microti. This qPCR assay was compared with two nonquantitative B. microti PCR assays by testing tick samples and was found to exhibit higher sensitivity for detection of B. microti DNA. The BabMq18 assay has a detection threshold of 10 copies per reaction and does not amplify DNA in I. scapularis ticks infected with Babesia odocoilei, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia miyamotoi, or Anaplasma phagocytophilum. This highly sensitive and specific qPCR assay can be used for detection of B. microti DNA in both tick and human samples. Finally, we report the prevalence of B. microti infection in field-collected I. scapularis nymphs from three locations in southern New England that present disparate incidences of human babesiosis.

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