African Sleeping Sickness

African sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis)

What is African sleeping sickness?

African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness is caused by trypanosomes, which are parasites. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of the tsetse fly. The disease is found in tropical Africa but the East African form of the disease is more serious than the West African variety.

Tsetse flies live in woodlands and thickets and in the dense vegation near streams. The risk of contracting this disease is low, particularly in urban areas. However, people visiting game parks and remote areas need to take precautions.

How can African sleeping sickness be prevented?

There is no vaccine available to prevent this disease. Unfortunately insect repellants are not effective and tsetse flies can bite through light clothes. Local knowledge will be useful in helping to avoid areas where tsetse fly are prevalent. Other methods of protection include wearing wrist and ankle-length clothes of heavier fabrics in colours that blend into the environment. Moving vehicles and dark clothing attract the tsetse fly.

What are the symptoms?

A bite by the tsetse fly is often painful and can develop into a red sore. Symptoms occur within one to four weeks of infection. These include fever, skin lesions, rashes and swollen lymph glands initially. However, this disease progresses to meningoencephalitis.

How is African sleeping sickness treated?

Treatment should be started as soon as possible and is based on the infected person's symptoms and laboratory results. Hospitalisation is necessary for treatment. The drug regimen depends on the infecting species and the stage of infection. Periodic follow-up by your medical advisor is required for two years.

Your GP or vaccination centre will be able to advise you on the precautions necessary for travel to various regions. Travel vaccination information is also available at www.cdc.gov/travel/. A useful Irish source of information is the Tropical Medical Bureau, www.tmb.ie.