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African Trypanosomiasis

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What is African trypanosomiasis?

There are two types of African trypanosomiasis (also called sleeping sickness); each is named for the region of Africa in which they are found. The disease is caused by a parasite named Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense (tri-PAN-o-SO-ma BREW-see-eye rho-DEE-see-ense), carried by the tsetse fly.Worldwide, approximately 25,000 new cases of both East and West African trypanosomiasis are reported to the World Health Organization each year. However, many cases are not reported due to a lack of infrastructure and the true number of new cases is undoubtedly much higher. Since 1967, thirty-six cases of East African trypanosomiasis have been reported within the United States, all among individuals who had traveled to Africa.

How is African trypanosomiasis spread?

An individual will get East African trypanosomiasis if they are bitten by a tsetse fly infected with the Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense parasite. The tsetse fly is common only to Africa.

An individual gets West African trypanosomiasis through the bite of an infected tsetse fly, found only in Africa.  On rare occasions, a pregnant woman may pass the infection to her baby, or an individual may become infected through a blood transfusion or organ transplant.

Is African trypanosomiasis a serious illness?

Yes. If a person fails to receive medical treatment for East African trypanosomiasis, death will occur within several weeks to months. West African trypanosomiasis is fatal if it is not treated.

Where can you become infected with African trypanosomiasis?

East African trypanosomiasis is found in parts of Eastern and Central Africa, including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zaire, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Areas where infection is spread are largely determined by the location of the infected tsetse fly and wild animal population.

West African trypanosomiasis can be contracted in parts of Western and Central Africa. The tsetse fly lives only in Africa; areas where infection is spread are largely determined by where the infected tsetse fly is found.

What are the symptoms of African trypanosomiasis?

East Aftrican trypanosomiasis: A bite by the tsetse fly is often painful and can develop into a red sore, also called a chancre (SHAN-ker). Fever, severe headaches, irritability, extreme fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and aching muscles and joints are common symptoms of sleeping sickness. Some people develop a skin rash. Progressive confusion, personality changes, slurred speech, seizures, and difficulty in walking and talking occur when infection has invaded the central nervous system. If left untreated, infection becomes worse and death will occur within several weeks or months.

West African trypanosomiasis: A bite by the tsetse fly is often painful.  Occasionally, within 1 to 2 weeks, the infective bite develops into a red sore, also called a chancre (SHAN-ker). Several weeks to months later, other symptoms of sleeping sickness occur. These include fever, rash, swelling around the eye and hands, severe headaches, extreme fatigue, aching muscles and joints. You may develop swollen lymph nodes on the back of your neck called Winterbottom's sign. Weight loss occurs as the illness progresses. Progressive confusion, personality changes, slurred speech, irritability, loss of concentration, seizures, and difficulty in walking and talking occurs when infection has invaded the central nervous system. These symptoms become worse as the illness progresses. Sleeping for long periods of the day and having insomnia at night is a common symptom. If left untreated, infection becomes worse and death will occur within several months to years after infection.

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