February 23, 2010

Treatment, Causes and Symptoms of African Sleeping Sickness (African Trypanosomiasis)

Posted in Category : Common Ailments


The African Sleeping Sickness is also known as the African trypanosomiasis, which is actually a systemic disease caused by parasites. The parasite that causes the disease is known as Trypanosoma brucei, which is transmitted when the tsetse fly (a grayish brown insect which is as big as the honeybee) bites a person. African sleeping sickness is prevalent only in tropical Africa, and this disease is caused in the northern part of South Africa to southern Egypt, Libya, and Algeria.

The Tsetse flies are found in rural areas, along rivers that have dense vegetation along them, and in thickets and woodlands of the savannah. In earlier times, this infection was rare among international travelers, but in recent times several travelers visiting the game parks have been infected with this condition.

Symptoms and Cure

The early symptoms of the disease include swollen glands, edema, rash, and high fever. As the disease aggravates, it can cause meningitis and encephalitis. It takes about a week to three weeks for the symptoms to show up. If the disease is not treated, then it could be fatal. African sleeping sickness can be cured with anti-trypanosomal therapy.


When the infected fly bites the person, the trypanosomes begin to rapidly multiply in the lymph, blood, and subcutaneous tissues. Over a period of time, the parasites infect the central nervous system. If a pregnant woman has been bitten by an infected fly, the foetus is at risk of getting infected too. The parasite can cross the placenta and pass on the infection to the baby. Scientists believe that the disease can be transmitted mechanically through contaminated needles.


Unfortunately, there isn’t any kind of vaccine to control the spread of the disease among people or prevent it. These flies like to latch onto contrasting colors and moving vehicles. Insect repellant is almost useless and they can nip through light clothing. Some areas have an abundance of these flies and the local people generally known about these areas. A good idea is to speak with the local people and avoid such areas. Also, you should wear clothes that cover you till your ankles and choose a fabric that is of medium-weight. Choose colors that do not stand out and blend with the background.

Disease management

  • The first step is to screen people for determining potential infection. This is done by checking for swollen cervical glands or serological tests. Through this examination one can determine if the person has got the disease.
  • Next, staging is carried out to find out what stage the disease is at. This is done by examining the cerebro-spinal fluid. This fluid is extracted by puncturing the lumbar. Diagnosis of this can determine the course of the treatment.