According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 95 percent reported cases of sleeping sickness are caused by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, which is found in western and central Africa. The other 10 percent of cases are caused by Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, which is found in eastern and southern Africa.
Seventy four percent of all cases are reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Its symptoms include changes of behavior, confusion and sensory disturbances.
What Causes Sleeping Sickness?
Sleeping sickness is transmitted by tsetse flies. More than 60 million people are at risk for sleeping sickness. The disease is often misdiagnosed in the first stage.
Successful treatment requires a drug that can cross the blood-brain barrier. The parasite causing sleeping sickness is transmitted to humans through infected tsetse flies, which breed in warm and humid areas. Inhabiting the vast savannah across sub-Saharan Africa, tsetse flies come into contact with people, cattle, and wild animals, all acting as reservoirs for the Trypanosoma parasites.
Symptoms of Sleeping Sickness
The first stage of sleeping sickness presents with non-specific symptoms such as fever, headache, weakness, itching, and joint pain. At this stage, sleeping sickness is easy to treat but difficult to diagnose. If no treatment is given, the parasite will invade the infected person’s central nervous system and the second stage sets in.
The second stage may be characterized by more specific symptoms, such as confusion, violent behavior or convulsions. Named after one of its most striking symptoms, patients with sleeping sickness experience an inability to sleep during the night but are often overcome by sleep during the day.
Diagnosing Sleeping Sickness
Diagnosing sleeping sickness before the second stage of the disease is difficult due to the non-specific symptoms of the early stage. Once the parasite is detected, a painful lumbar puncture must be made to examine the patient’s cerebro-spinal fluid. This will determine the stage of the disease and the appropriate treatment.