After the death of her husband, a Pennsylvania woman and her children are raising awareness about a relatively unknown disease that is spread by ticks.
Crissy Naticchia's husband Jeff died after being infected with babesiosis, a disease spread by deer ticks, the same ticks that spread Lyme disease.
In July, Jeff was taken to the hospital with a fever, sweating and fatigue. Crissy said it took days for doctors to make a diagnosis.
"It's going to be a long, hard road ahead. I mean we had so much to do," Crissy told WPVI. "He was only 50."
Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells, notes the CDC. The disease is spread by ticks, mostly in the Northeast and upper Midwest and usually during warmer months.
Many people infected with babesiosis show few or no symptoms.
"The problem is the disease can get very severe if people don't have a normal immune system," Dr. Neil Fishman, an infectious disease specialist, told WPVI. People with compromised immune systems include those undergoing chemotherapy, transplant recipients, the elderly and anyone without a spleen.
Jeff had his spleen removed as a child but it never had any effect on his health until he contracted babesiosis.
"In 26 years, he'd been sick maybe twice," Crissy told WPVI.
Many state health departments track cases of babesiosis, but Pennsylvania does not.
"We are seeing more and more Lyme disease in certain parts of [Pennsylvania], so we may start to see an increase in babesiosis," Fishman said.
There is no vaccine to protect against babesiosis, notes the CDC, but there are simple steps people can take to lower the risk of infection.
The CDC recommends staying on cleared trails and avoiding contact with brush and grass when walking through wooded areas.
When walking in wooded areas, try to cover all exposed skin. Wear long socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pants into socks to prevent ticks from possibly crawling up inside pants. Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to find and remove ticks.
Spray exposed areas of the skin with tick repellent containing DEET as the active ingredient when outside in where ticks are prevalent.
After any outdoor activities, check for ticks on clothing and pets before going inside. The ticks that spread babesiosis can be as small as a poppy seed, according to the CDC. If they are attached to your skin for less than 36-48 hours, they cannot transmit babesiosis.