African Sleeping Sickness

Humans can experience a severe ailment from any external source, and one major source of ailment in Sub-Sahara African region is parasitic protozoa resulting in a serious disease called African sleeping sickness. Anyone can experience this ailment and with proper information it is possible to combat it completely. So, read on to know everything about this deadly ailment.

Definition of African sleeping sickness

Also known as African trypansomiasis, this is an ailment caused by the parasitic protozoa, which is transferred to the body through the bite of tsetse fly. The disease is mainly found in regions of Libya, Egypt, Algeria, and Africa, but can be deadly if left untreated. This ailment is caused by two species of the Typanosoma Brucei – Trypanosoma Brucei Rhodesiense, and Trypanosoma Brucei Gambiense. The latter one is reported to cause almost 97% of the ailment in individuals.

Types of African sleeping sickness

  1. Trypanosoma Brucei Gambiense, which is found in 24 countries in the central and western Africa. This form leads to African sleeping sickness as well as other chronic conditions. An individual can be infected for not just months but even for years without showing any major signs of the disease. When the ailment is detected or identified, then in most of the cases, the patient has already reached the advanced stage and a severe effect on the nervous system.
  2. Trypanosoma Brucei Rhodesiense, is the second form that is found in 13 countries in southern and eastern Africa. This form is presented in around 3% of the cases. It shows early signs and symptoms within the few months of the disease. This ailment spreads rapidly and affects the nervous system. It is therefore essential to identify and treat it as early as possible.

Transmission of African sleeping sickness

The bad thing about this ailment is that it is a transmissible disease that can be shifted from one person to the other with ease. Both the types mentioned above can be transmitted from human to human through the single bite of the parasite tsetse fly that is carrying the infectious protozoa. When the fly bite one or more person, then it transfers the infectious elements thereby making more number of people fall ill with it.

Also, the infection can be transferred from the mother to the child in her womb. It is because the parasite can cross the placenta within the blood and infect the baby in the womb. Just like other severe ailments, the African sleeping sickness disease can be shifted to the individuals through contaminated needles. But this is one of the rarest ways to transmit the disease.

Most of the individuals living in the rural areas are at higher risk of this ailment. These groups depend on the agriculture, hunting, and fishing for their food and it is in these areas where tsetse fly is found. There is limited access of proper medication and treatment in rural areas. For this reason, most of the times this ailment go undiagnosed.

Symptoms of African sleeping sickness

The African sleeping sickness ailment occurs in two stages that differ in symptoms.

The first stage is termed as hemolymphatic phase, which is symbolized by headaches, fever, itching, and joint pains. The person suffering from this ailment experiences high fever that triggers high and that last from a week. The disease causes invasion of the lymphatic and circulatory systems that is associated with severe swelling of the lymph nodes. The swelling is too severe and big in size. In some cases, there might be an occurrence of the winter bottom’s sign, which is tell-tale swollen lymph node on the back of neck. Also, a person might experience a red sore, commonly known as chancre that develops right at the point where the insect has bit. It is essential to treat the disease at the very first stage, or otherwise, it will result in severe damages and occurrence of other ailments, like cardiac, anemia, kidney dysfunctions, and endocrine.

If the ailment of African sleeping sickness is left untreated at the first stage, then it reaches the second stage, known as neurological phase. This stage instigates when the parasite in the body moves to the central nervous system. It reaches the brain through the blood-brain barrier. During this stage a person starts experiencing lack of sleep. It is because of this symptom that the disease is named as ‘sleeping sickness.’ Individuals suffering from this disease at the second stage experience disorganized and interrupted rhythm of the sleep cycle. One might even experience daytime sleep and nighttime wakefulness.

Besides these symptoms, a person suffering from this ailment experiences other symptoms, like confusion, muscle weakness, tremor, hemiparesis, and even paralysis of the limb. Aggressive behavior, apathy, psychotic reactions, and irritability are other symptoms noticed in person suffering from African sleeping sickness.

Diagnosis of African sleeping sickness

It is essential to get an early diagnosis of African sleeping sickness so that the disease can be prevented from becoming progressive. If in case an individual has a doubt of meeting the ailment, then he must go for an immediate screening, which is mainly done in two steps.

  • The very first step involves checking for clinical signals, like swollen lymph glands in and around neck. The screening will also try to identify neurological signs like disturbed sleeping patterns or a mental state.
  • The second step involves screening of the blood to identify the presence of parasite.

If both these steps fail to deliver adequate results, then individuals have to go through blood test for particular antibodies that can confirm the presence of this parasite. If the test results positive, then there will be further assessment done to identify the stage of the disease. For this, a sample of spinal fluid is taken in order to examine the parasite. If the parasite is present then it is an indication that it has reached to the second stage.

Treatment of African sleeping sickness

It is possible to treat African sleeping sickness only if the ailment is diagnosed at an early stage. If it is not treated even in the second stage, then it can lead to fatal end results. Also, the type of treatment offer depends on the stage of the ailment. Still the various treatment options available are as follows:

  1. African sleeping sickness can be treated with drugs if diagnosed at the first stage. Since, it is milder so, it can be treated easily with a series of injections.
  2. If the disease has reached the second stage, then the parasite has entered into the central nervous system. In this situation, the treatment is more aggressive and is carried with use of more toxic drugs. It is essential to provide the drugs for several weeks to kill the parasite.
  3. Presently, there are four types of drugs certified by experts to treat the African sleeping sickness ailment. These four drugs are:
  • Suramin – This drug can effectively combat African sleeping sickness at the first stage. Although, there are some side effects with its intake, like skin allergies or urinary tract infection, but still it is an effective remedy to combat this disease.
  • Pentamidine – Another drug that can treat this ailment at the first stage is brucei gambiense. Usually it has no side effects and is proven to deliver effective results in short time period.
  • Eflornithine – This drug was primarily introduced to combat cancer. It can be given to treat the sickness at the second stage. It is a less toxic drug, but is prone to deliver side effects, like diarrhea, vomiting, anemia, and joint pains.
  • Melarsoprol – This drug can be given to patients suffering from the sleeping sickness ailment at the second stage. It is a strong drug and is prone to deliver numerous side effects. In extreme situations it can even result in reactive encephalopathy, which is a fatal disorder of the brain. As a result, the drug is given to a patient only when all other treatment methods fail or become unresponsive.

Prevention of African sleeping sickness

Preventing the occurrence of the deadly ailment of African sleeping sickness is still not possible as there is no vaccine introduced against it. The best way to prevent this disease from happening is to stay away from the tsetse fly vector. There are some measures that you can adopt in order to combat this ailment.

African sleeping sickness is a problematic disease that can be life threatening. The worst thing about it is that most of the people living in rural areas are affected by it, and still they don’t have much knowledge about this disease. While the disease can be treated only if diagnosed early, the best way is to educate people residing in rural areas about this deadly disease.

African Sleeping Sickness FAQs

Are there any ways to stay prevented from this disease?

Wearing long-sleeved top and bottoms are essential for people residing in rural areas prone to this ailment. Also, the tsetse vector gets attracted to bright colors, and hence, it is essential to avoid wearing bright colored clothes. Individuals must try to avoid roaming in bushy areas where the tsetse are present and may bite if disturbed. Lastly, one can apply an insect repellent in order to avoid bites from this disease.

Is it possible to treat African sleeping sickness at the second stage?

Treating this ailment at the second stage is difficult, but it is possible only if the treatment is undertaken from the experts.

Does African sleeping sickness affect other body organs also?

It directly affects the brain, but since all other body organs are linked to the nervous system, so there can be possible indirect effects on other body parts too.

Medical Reference:

Last updated on September 18th, 2017 at 8:22 am

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