What is Trypanosomiasis?

Trypanosomiasis is an infection caused by the protozoa Trypanosoma brucei. It is spread through the bite of certain species of tsetse fly which are found in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Central and South America, and western Asia. Globally, there are two main forms of trypanosomiasis: African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, and Chagas disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2010 there were 311,000 cases of sleeping sickness and 8 million people with chronic Chagas disease.

Symptoms of Trypanosomiasis

Symptoms of African trypanosomiasis can vary depending on the stage of the infection. Early symptoms may be mild and include fever, headaches, joint and muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and loss of appetite. As the infection progresses, serious neurologic symptoms such as confusion, sleep disturbances, and movement problems can occur. Chagas disease can also cause a wide range of symptoms including fever, fatigue, body aches, swelling, and an enlarged esophagus or colon.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Trypanosomiasis

The diagnosis of trypanosomiasis can be difficult, as many of the symptoms are similar to other diseases that are common in affected areas. Diagnostic tests are available, including microscopic examination of blood smears, PCR, and antigen detection methods. Treatment for African trypanosomiasis includes the use of antimony drugs, such as pentamidine or suramin, and the antiparasitic drugs eflornithine or nifurtimox.

Prevention of Trypanosomiasis

The most effective way to prevent the spread of trypanosomiasis is to avoid being bitten by the tsetse fly. Avoiding sleeping outside or in areas where the flies are present is one way to reduce your risk. Insecticides, fly screens, and insect repellents can also be used to help prevent bites.

Complications of Trypanosomiasis

If left untreated, African trypanosomiasis can cause serious health problems, including brain damage, organ damage, and even death. Chronic chagasic infections can cause an enlarged heart, cardiomyopathy, or arrhythmias. Both African trypanosomiasis and Chagas disease can also cause skin lesions, anemia, and malabsorption.

Risk Factors For Trypanosomiasis

Anyone who lives or travels in an area where tsetse flies exist is at risk of infection. Common risk factors for trypanosomiasis include poverty, inadequate housing, lack of medical access, and exposure to wildlife or domestic animals that are carriers of the parasite.

Tips for Reducing Your Risk of Trypanosomiasis

  • Avoid sleeping outside or in areas where the tsetse fly is present.
  • Wear appropriate clothing to reduce the risk of being bitten by tsetse flies (e.g., long sleeves and pants).
  • Use insect repellents and insecticides to protect yourself from tsetse flies.
  • Protect pets and domestic animals by treating them with appropriate insecticides.
  • Stay up to date on medical care and regular blood tests if you travel in areas where trypanosomiasis is present.