Babesia blood testing: the first?year experience


Babesia is an intraerythrocytic parasite responsible for hundreds of cases of transfusion-transmitted babesiosis in the past 50?years. In May of 2020, blood testing for Babesia was implemented at the American Red Cross (ARC) for all donations in endemic areas of the northeastern and midwestern regions of the United States.


Between May 2020 and May 2021, 1,816,669 donations from 13 states and DC were tested for Babesia by the ARC. Testing was performed in pools of 16 whole blood lysates using a licensed nucleic acid test (NAT) targeting Babesia 18S rRNA. Reactive donations were tested for B. microti antibody by immunoglobulin G immunofluorescence. Suspected cases of transfusion-transmitted babesiosis (TTB) were investigated if reported.


The first 13?months of Babesia screening identified 365 NAT-reactive donations. Antibodies for B. microti were detected in 79% (287) of reactive donations; negative serology samples were prevalent between May and July. Follow-up donations were collected from 142 donors, and 86% (122), collected up to 74?days after index, remained NAT reactive. Reactive donations were mainly collected in MA (77), CT (68), NY (49), NJ (47), and PA (44), but were identified in all states except Delaware. Most reactive blood donors were male (65%) aged between 40 and 80?years. Since the beginning of Babesia testing, no case of TTB was identified.


The absence of TTB cases since implementation of Babesia screening for blood donations collected in endemic areas suggests testing is an effective strategy to eliminate TTB.