The incidence of babesiosis, Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases has increased steadily in Europe and North America during the last five decades. Babesia microti is transmitted by species of Ixodes, the same ticks that transmit the Lyme disease-causing spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi. B. microti can also be transmitted through transfusion of blood products and is the most common transfusion-transmitted infection in the U.S.A. Ixodes ticks are commonly infected with both B. microti and B. burgdorferi, and are competent vectors for transmitting them together into hosts. Few studies have examined the effects of coinfections on humans and they had somewhat contradictory results. One study linked coinfection with B. microti to a greater number of symptoms of overall disease in patients, while another report indicated that B. burgdorferi infection either did not affect babesiosis symptoms or decreased its severity. Mouse models of infection that manifest pathological effects similar to those observed in human babesiosis and Lyme disease offer a unique opportunity to thoroughly investigate the effects of coinfection on the host. Lyme disease has been studied using the susceptible C3H mouse infection model, which can also be used to examine B. microti infection to understand pathological mechanisms of human diseases, both during a single infection and during coinfections. We observed that high B. microti parasitaemia leads to low haemoglobin levels in infected mice, reflecting the anaemia observed in human babesiosis. Similar to humans, B. microti coinfection appears to enhance the severity of Lyme disease-like symptoms in mice. Coinfected mice have lower peak B. microti parasitaemia compared to mice infected with B. microti alone, which may reflect attenuation of babesiosis symptoms reported in some human coinfections. These findings suggest that B. burgdorferi coinfection attenuates parasite growth while B. microti presence exacerbates Lyme disease-like symptoms in mice.
Keywords: Babesia microti; Babesiosis; Borrelia burgdorferi; Coinfections; Tick-borne diseases.