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All About the Tropical Disease African Trypanosomiasis (Sleeping Sickness)

Apr 15, 2008
African sleeping sickness is also known as Human African trypanosomiasis. However, African sleeping sickness is easier to pronounce and aptly describes the disease. The protozoan parasite that causes the disease is spread by the tsetse fly. These flies live in Africa and are found in rivers, lakes and wooded forests along the savannah.

60 million individuals, including children, are at risk for the disease in 36 sub-Saharan Africa. Every year nearly 500,000 people develop the disease.

Infection can be spread not only by the flies but through the placenta from an infected mom-to-be into the baby. It can also be spread by contaminated needles.

Another human form of the disease occurs in the Americas and is called Chagas disease.

Symptoms for African sleeping sickness include bouts of fever, headache, joint pains and itching. When the parasites cross the blood-brain barrier than the central nervous system is involved and symptoms of confusion, sensory disruption and poor coordination can be seen. If the individual is not treated the disease is fatal.

Cure rates are high if the patient receives treatment in the first phase of the disease before the central nervous system involvement.

The major symptoms of the disease do not appear until the second phase until then the disease behaves much like others. During the second phase the symptoms are confusion, poor coordination, sensory disturbances, sleep cycle disturbances and without treatment the disease is fatal.

Diagnosis:

Serological tests are performed and also clinical checks for signs of the disease such as swollen cervical glands. Tests look for evidence of the parasite. The cerebro-spinal fluid is checked by way of a lumbar puncture to determine the state of disease progression. The earlier the diagnosis is made the less risk is involved in treatment. If the central nervous system is involved treatment is complicated and risky.

Treatment:

There is a different treatment for each stage of the disease. The earlier the diagnosis is made the better the prognosis. Drugs for the second stage of the disease need to be able to cross over the blood-brain barrier and are quite toxic and expensive leaving it impossible for most in the impoverished countries to be treated without help from organizations.

WHO (World Health Organization) private partnership provides four drugs for sleeping sickness free of charge to endemic countries.

A drug melarsoprol is used in the second phase of the disease and is derived from arsenic.

Unfortunately, the disease is becoming more drug resistant as time goes on and researchers are trying to find new drugs. For now, remote areas of populations, and the need for more medical facilities and availability of drugs limit the therapeutic success. More funding is needed for research into new drugs to counteract the drug resistance now being witnessed.
About the Author
Scott Meyers is a staff writer for Its Entirely Natural, a resource for helping you achieve a naturally healthy body, mind, and spirit. You may contact our writers through the web site. Follow this link for more information on Tropical Diseases.
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