Sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis)

    • Brief

    • Sleeping sickness is caused by a parasite infection that causes brain and nerve damage. The parasite is transmitted by the bite of an infected tsetse fly. Sleeping sickness is in two stages. Once the disease is in the second stage, the brain and nerves are affected.

      The treatment for the two stages of sleeping sickness differs with the drugs for the first stage being safer and easier to use.

    • What are the symptoms?

    • One to three weeks after a person has been infected through the bite of a tsetse fly, the symptoms may include:

      • Joint pains.
      • Itchiness.
      • Headache.
      • Fevers.
      • Painful skin ulcer.
      • Enlarged lymph nodes.

      Weeks to months later, symptoms can include:

      • Confusion and hallucinations.
      • Poor coordination.
      • Trouble sleeping at night but the ability to sleep during the day.
      • Speech disturbances.
      • Seizures.
      • Coma.

    • What are the causes?

    • Sleeping sickness is caused by two types of parasites, Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (which causes a more severe illness). The infection is contracted through the bite of an infected tsetse fly.

    • What are the things that put you at risk?

    • Your risk of having sleeping sickness might increase with the following:

      • Living in the parts of Africa where sleeping sickness is found such as Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Malawi and South Sudan.
      • Being bitten by tsetse flies.
      • Receiving either an organ donation or blood transfusion from a person who carries the disease.
      • Having sexual contact with a person who carries the disease.

    • When to visit a doctor?

    • Visit your healthcare provider immediately if you suspect that you have been bitten by a tsetse fly. When detected early, patients may get better without lasting health effects. Sleeping sickness should not be left untreated, or else the infection will worsen, and death can occur within months.

    • How to prevent?

    • You can prevent the infection by avoiding the bite of the tsetse fly. You can do this by spraying indoors with residual insecticide, wearing neutral-coloured clothing covering your skin, using insect repellants on the skin and clearing bushes and stagnant water. Long-lasting insecticide-treated nets have not been effective but can help protect from the bite of mosquitoes that breed in similar conditions.

    • How to manage and treat?

    • Selfcare tips

      There are no self-care tips for managing the condition, but there are some things you can do to prevent being bitten by a tsetse fly. They include:

      • Wearing thick pants and long-sleeved shirts as tsetse flies can bite through thin clothing.
      • Sleep under bed nets, especially insecticide-treated bed nets.
      • Inspect vehicles for tsetse flies before getting in.
      • Avoid bushes.

      Medical treatment

      • Your healthcare provider will prescribe anti-infectives (like Pentamidine or Melasorprol) that work for the type of parasite infecting you and the stage of infection.
      • Your healthcare provider will monitor you for at least 2 years to identify if the disease reoccurs.

    • Kulawa cares

    • Ensure you protect yourself from getting bitten by tsetse fly by wearing thick long clothing, using bed nets when sleeping, and avoiding bushes. If an insect bites you, ensure you report it early, early detection and treatment are important to prevent long-term nervous disorder or brain damage and death.