What is trypanosomiasis disease

Sleeping sickness

Contents overview

What is sleeping sickness?

African sleeping sickness, also known as West African sleeping sickness, is a tropical infectious disease. Experts speak of "Human African Trypanosomiasis" (HAT). The pathogens become by the sting of the tsetse fly transfer. Sleeping sickness mainly affects the lymphatic and nervous systems. If left untreated, it is fatal. In the past 20 years, fewer and fewer people have fallen ill, the number of cases has fallen by 95 percent: from 28,000 in 1999 to 1,450 in 2017. *

How do you get sick with sleeping sickness?

The pathogens of sleeping sickness are transmitted to humans by the diurnal, blood-sucking tsetse fly. The tsetse fly is coming in wetlands such as rivers or swamps and less often in dry savannah landscapes. Your stitches are painful and go through clothing. The insect transmits several thousand pathogens per bite.

The cause of sleeping sickness

The cause of sleeping sickness are unicellular parasite called trypanosoma. There are two subspecies, depending on the region: In West and Central Africa the parasite Trypanosoma brucei gambiense transmits sleeping sickness, in East Africa it is the Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense. Once the parasites are in the human body, they spread through the bloodstream and multiply. It is difficult for the immune system to recognize and fight the aliens because the parasites are constantly changing their surface.

What symptoms do patients with sleeping sickness have?

The symptoms of sleeping sickness vary depending on the phase. Phase 1 is through unspecific symptoms marked:

  • fever
  • weakness
  • Headache and pain in the limbs
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes

In phase 2, the pathogens mainly attack the nervous system. This manifests itself in the form of:

  • sleep disorders
  • Seizures
  • exhaustion
  • confusion

In phase 3, the parasites reach the brain and spinal cord. Following:

  • severe neurological damage
  • severe trouble sleeping
  • Reversal of the sleep-wake rhythm
  • a twilight state similar to a coma

How is sleeping sickness diagnosed?

The diagnosis of trypanosomiasis is made by the multiple laboratory evidence the parasites in the human body. They extract the sample material

  • Blood draws,
  • Puncture sites,
  • Cerebral fluid obtained by puncturing the spinal canal.

Spread of sleeping sickness

Sleeping sickness occurs especially in sub-Saharan Africa - people in wetlands and savannahs in East and South Africa are particularly affected. A total of around 77 million people are at risk. For example, sleeping sickness shows up in countries such as:

  • Central African Republic
  • Ivory Coast
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Guinea
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Chad
  • Malawi

How is sleeping sickness treated?

Sleeping sickness can neither be cured nor prevented. Doctors treat the symptoms with medication:

  • Until 2009, due to a lack of alternatives, patients received the arsenic-containing drug melarsoprol.
  • Combination therapy has been available since 2009 from nifurtimox and eflornithine (NECT). NECT was developed by Doctors Without Borders, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) and Epicenter.
  • The active ingredient fexinidazole developed by DNDi has been approved since 2018. The European Medicines Agency recommends fexinidazole as the first purely oral treatment that works via tablets.
  • From 2021, experts expect the approval dossier of another oral active ingredient acoziborol to be submitted to the European Medicines Agency. * Doctors Without Borders is one of the founding partners of DNDi.

What is MSF doing about sleeping sickness?

In 2018, MSF treated 80 people with sleeping sickness. Mobile teams traveled to remote villages, among other places, to locate and locate patients to be treated with medication in time.

Sleeping sickness is one of the neglected diseases that is under-invested in research because it mainly affects people in poorer countries. Doctors Without Borders' drug campaign is working to change this situation.

In which countries is MSF fighting sleeping sickness?

* Drugs for neglected diseases initiative - Report on the treatment of sleeping sickness

August 06, 2008