African Trypanosomiasis

(Sleeping Sickness)

Description of Disease

African trypanosomiasis is spread by the tsetse fly, which is common to many African countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 450,000 cases occur each year. Symptoms of the disease include fever, headaches, joint pains, and itching in the early stage, and confusion, sensory disturbances, poor coordination, and disrupted sleep cycles in the second stage. If the disease goes untreated in its first stage, it causes irreparable neurological damage; if it goes untreated in its second stage, it is fatal.

Diagnosis ( How The Diagnosis is made)

The diagnosis of African Trypanosomiasis is made through laboratory methods, because the clinical features of infection are not sufficiently specific. The diagnosis rests on finding the parasite in body fluid or tissue by microscopy.

How the disease is transmitted ?

The disease is mostly transmitted through the bite of an infected tsetse fly but there are other ways in which people are infected.

Disease Course

The clinical course of human African trypanosomiasis has two stages. In the first stage, the parasite is found in the peripheral circulation, but it has not yet invaded the central nervous system. Once the parasite crosses the blood-brain barrier and infects the central nervous system, the disease enters the second stage. The subspecies that cause African trypanosomiasis have different rates of disease progression, and the clinical features depend on which form of the parasite is causing the infection. However, infection with either form will eventually lead to coma and death if not treated.

Possible Complications

Complications include:

  • Injury related to falling asleep while driving or during other activities
  • Gradual damage to the nervous system
  • Uncontrollable sleep as the disease gets worse
  • Coma

Target Audience

The disease affects mostly poor populations living in remote rural areas of Africa. Untreated, it is usually fatal. Travelers also risk becoming infected if they venture through regions where the insect is common. Generally, the disease is not found in urban areas, although some cases have been reported in suburban areas of big cities in some disease endemic countries.
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