Home Immune systemParasitic infections Sleeping sickness: symptoms, treatment and sequelae

Sleeping sickness: symptoms, treatment and sequelae

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

African human trypanosomiasis, the scientific name for what is popularly known as sleeping sickness, is a parasitic disease that needs a vector, in this specific case, a fly, to infect. The fly infects the parasite after biting an infected human or animal. This fly is only found in Africa, so in most cases, you can only get the disease while there. However, the continuous migratory and merchandise flows make it increasingly likely that this type of disease will spread to other world areas.

If this disease is not diagnosed and treated in time, it can lead to inflammation of the brain, which gives one of the most representative symptoms of this disease: drowsiness. At FastlyHealwe, tell you more about sleeping sickness: symptoms, treatment, and sequelae so that you know everything you need to know about this disease.

Transmission and contagion of sleeping sickness

The parasite requires, in most cases, the use of a vector, the tsetse fly, for infection to occur. This fly is only found in Africa, so the disease can only be found in people who have traveled to this continent; the vector (the fly) is not spread throughout the continent; it is concentrated in some countries and areas: rivers, lakes, gallery forests or savanna. The countries that report the most cases of infections are:

  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo, where around 80% of reported cases are found.
  • The central African Republic is the second country to present the highest cases.
  • Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, United Republic of Tanzania, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, present cases but very rarely: less than 100 cases per year.

However, other cases of infection in which the fly is not involved have been reported:

  • Vertical transmission (mother-child): The parasite can cross the placental barrier and infect the baby.
  • Accidental punctures with needles that contain the parasite.
  • It is sexually transmitted.

Sleeping sickness and its symptoms

Once the parasite has entered the body, it begins to multiply. This occurs in different stages; the phases of the disease that are known are three:


It is the first phase and originates after infection. The characteristic of this phase is the inflammation in the bite area, followed by the evolution towards a painful ulcer with a white frame around it. Finally, the ulcer becomes a dark, hyper-pigmented lesion after two or three weeks of development.

hemolymphatic phase

In this phase, the parasite passes into the blood and lymphatic circulation, where it begins to replicate. In this phase, the following symptoms are mainly present:

  • Episodes of high fever (1 to 3 days), followed by periods without fever. Each fever is the result of a new replication of the parasite.
  • Intense and disabling pain in the head
  • Intense weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Anemia
  • Winterbottom’s sign: Swollen cervical lymph nodes, but they do not cause pain.
  • Weight loss and itching.

Neurological phase

When this phase begins, the parasite has already crossed the blood-brain barrier, the protective barrier that filters what can happen to the brain. Therefore it can already infect the central nervous system. During this phase, symptoms of the hemato-lymphatic stage may co-occur. The characteristic symptoms of this phase are:

  • Change in behavior and character
  • Decreased concentration
  • Irritability
  • Sudden mood swings, going from joy to sadness in short time intervals.
  • Drowsiness begins to occur during the day, progressing as the infection increases. Finally causes excessive sleep,

Sleeping sickness: treatment

Treatment should be started in patients in whom the parasite is found in the blood. Although there is a treatment, the disease can have high mortality rates. In addition, a study of the Cerebrospinal Fluid (Central Nervous System) should be done to determine the presence or not of the parasite in the brain. Depending on the stage of the disease, the treatment is different:

  • A disease that does not involve the brain: If the condition is diagnosed at this point, the chances of improvement are very high, and the damage caused by the drugs is more minor. The drugs used in this phase are pentamidine and suramin.
  • Disease involving the brain: The diagnosis is made when the parasite is found in the cerebrospinal fluid. At this point, drugs that can become very toxic are used: melarsoprol and eflornithine.

Sequelae and prevention of sleeping sickness

If there is no timely diagnosis, the disease can be fatal. Treatment can be very effective and eliminate the disease, but minor sequelae in the central nervous system may include occasional minor headaches. There are no vaccines for this disease; in countries where the infection occurs, you can try to control the fly that transmits the disease. To prevent sleeping sickness, some individual measures can be carried out:

  • Avoid areas with insects that transmit the disease.
  • Wear light, cool clothing that covers most of the body.
  • Apply great repellent.
  • Place mosquito nets.
  • Use insecticides.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Sleeping Sick: symptoms, treatment and sequelae , we recommend that you enter our Immune System category .

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