Babesiosis is considered to be an emerging tick-borne
disease in humans worldwide. However, most studies on the epidemiology of human babesiosis to date have been carried out in North America, and there is little knowledge on the prevalence of infection and frequency of
disease in other areas. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of Babesia infections in a human population in Germany. A total of 467 sera collected between May and October 1999 from individuals living in the Rhein-Main area were tested for the presence of immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgM antibodies to antigens of Babesia microti and Babesia divergens by indirect fluorescent-antibody (IFA) tests. These sera were derived from 84
Lyme borreliosis patients suffering from erythema migrans, 60 asymptomatic individuals with positive borreliosis serology, and 81 individuals with a history of tick bite. Cutoff values for discrimination between seronegative and seropositive results in the IFA tests were determined using sera from 120 healthy blood donors and 122 patients suffering from conditions other than tick-borne diseases (malaria, n = 40; toxoplasmosis, n = 22; syphilis, n = 20; Epstein-Barr virus infection, n = 20; and presence of antinuclear antibodies, n = 20). The overall specificities of the IFA tests for B. microti and B. divergens were estimated to be >or=97.5%. Positive IgG reactivity against B. microti antigen (titer, >or=1:64) or B. divergens antigen (titer, >or=1:128) was detected significantly more often (P < 0.05) in the group of patients exposed to ticks (26 of 225 individuals; 11.5%) than in the group of healthy blood donors (2 of 120 individuals; 1.7%). IgG antibody titers of >or=1:256 against at least one of the babesial antigens were found significantly more often (P < 0.05) in patients exposed to ticks (9 of 225) than in the control groups (1 of 242). In the human population investigated here, the overall seroprevalences for B. microti and B. divergens were 5.4% (25 of 467) and 3.6% (17 of 467), respectively. The results obtained here provide evidence for concurrent infections with Borrelia burgdorferi and Babesia species in humans exposed to ticks in midwestern Germany. They also suggest that infections with Babesia species in the German human population are more frequent than believed previously and should be considered in the differential diagnosis of febrile illness occurring after exposure to ticks or blood transfusions, in particular in immunocompromised patients.