Sleeping Sickness

Sun, Oct 4, 2009

Sleep DisordersSleepingSickness

Sleeping Sickness, as described by Wikipedia, is also called Human African trypanosomiasis, African lethargy or Congo trypanosomiasis. It is a parasitic disease of people and animals, caused by protozoa of the species Trypanosoma brucei and transmitted by the tsetse fly. The disease is endemic in some regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, covering about 36 countries and 60 million people. It is estimated that 50,000 to 70,000 people are currently infected, the number having declined somewhat in recent years. Three major epidemics have occurred in recent history, one lasting from 1896–1906 and the other two in 1920 and 1970. In 2008 there was an epidemic in Uganda.  

There are two types of Sleeping Sikness illness: 

  • East African Trypanosomiasis
  • West African Trypanosomiasis

Treatment for Sleeping Sickness

Nairobi (by IRIN —  Humanitarian News and Analysis)— Patients at an advanced stage of Human African Trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, can now access more convenient, safer and cheaper treatment after the introduction of Nifurtimox-Eflornithine Combination Therapy (NECT). Developed by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) and partners, NECT comprises the administration of oral nifurtimox, and eflornithine injections for 10 days.


At the initial stages, symptoms include fever and aching muscles and joints.

Brain invasion by those parasites in advanced stages of the illnes leads to problems such as:

  • confusion
  • personality changes
  • slurred speech
  • seizures
  • difficulty walking and talking

Left untreated, the disease is fatal.

The tsetse fly is large, brown and stealthy. While taking blood from a mammalian host, an infected tsetse fly (genus Glossina) injects metacyclic trypomastigotes into skin tissue. The parasites enter the lymphatic system and pass into the bloodstream

  • Inside the host, they transform into bloodstream trypomastigotes
  • are carried to other sites throughout the body, reach other blood fluids (e.g., lymph, spinal fluid), and continue the replication by binary fission
  • The entire life cycle of African Trypanosomes is represented by extracellular stages. A tsetse fly becomes infected with bloodstream trypomastigotes when taking a blood meal on an infected mammalian host
  • In the fly’s midgut, the parasites transform into procyclic trypomastigotes,
  • multiply by binary fission,
  • leave the midgut, and
  • transform into epimastigotes
  • The epimastigotes reach the fly’s salivary glands and continue multiplication by binary fission.
  • The cycle in the fly takes approximately 3 weeks to progress.

Watch Video: Drug Discovery: African Sleeping Sickness   

Rommie Amaro, Computational and Theoretical Biophysical Chemist, discusses how she uses the resources at SDSC to conduct her drug discovery research on African Sleeping Sickness. Originally posted by SDSC on SDSC’s CI Channel at: 



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