Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sleeping Sickness: Parasites - African Trypanosomiasis

African Trypanosomiasis, also called as "sleeping sickness," is caused by microscopic parasites of the species Trypanosoma brucei. It is carried by the tsetse fly (Glossina species), which is found only in rural Africa. Although the infection is not found in the United States, historically, it has been a serious public health problem in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, about 10,000 new cases each year are reported to the World Health organization; however, it is conceived that many cases go undiagnosed and unreported. Sleeping sickness is curable with medication, but is disastrous if left untreated.


All persons diagnosed with African Trypanosomiasis should get treatment. The specific drug and treatment course will depend on the type of infection (T. b. gambiense or T. b. rhodesiense) and the disease stage (i.e. whether the central anxious system has been invaded by the parasite). Pentamidine, which is the recommended drug for first stage T. b. gambiense infection, is widely available in the U.S. The other drugs (suramin, melarsoprol, eflornithine, and nifurtimox) used to treat African trypanosomiasis are available in the U.S. only from the CDC. Physicians can look up with CDC staff for advice on diagnosis and management and to find otherwise unavailable treatment drug.

Prevent and Control

Control of African trypanosomiasis rests on two schemes: reducing the disease reservoir and controlling the tsetse fly vector. Because humans are the significant disease reservoir for T. b. gambiense, the main control strategy for this subspecies is active case-finding through population screening, followed by treatment of the infected persons that are identified.