Sleep Disorder

Sleeping Sickness Explained: What is it?

what is Sleeping Sickness

According to medical experts, there are two types of sleeping sickness, referred to in the medical community as African trypanosomiasis.

Each one of them is named for the region in Africa where it is found- East African trypanosomiasis and West African trypanosomiasis. The disease is transmitted by the tsetse fly.

This is a fairly common condition, in that approximately 25,000 cases of both East African and West African sleeping sickness are reported each year to the World Health Organization.

Of course, those are the reported cases- there are still many cases that are never reported due to the lack of infrastructure. Therefore, the true number of new cases each year is most likely much higher than that.

However, if you live in the United States, you can pretty much rest easy because only 36 cases of East African sleeping sickness have been reported since the year 1967.

How Does Sleeping Sickness Spread?

When an individual is bitten by a tsetse fly that is infected by a parasite known as Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, they will contract the condition known as East African sleeping sickness or West African sleeping sickness- depending on where they are when they are bitten.

Tsetse flies are common only to Africa. In very rare instances, a pregnant woman can pass the condition to her baby, or individuals contract the condition through an organ transplant or blood transfusion.

Is Sleeping Sickness a Serious Condition?

If not treated for East African sleeping sickness, death is mostly likely to occur within several weeks to several months. In addition, if not treated, West African sleeping sickness is also fatal.

Where Can Sleeping Sickness be Contracted?

Of course, as already mentioned, sleeping sickness is transmitted through the bite of the tsetse fly, which is common to Africa.

However, more specifically, the condition of East African sleeping sickness is found in areas of Central and Eastern Africa.

On the other hand, the condition of West African sleeping sickness is found in areas of Central and Western Africa.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleeping Sickness

The signs and symptoms of East African sleeping sickness are:

  • Chancre (red sore)
  • Severe headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Aching muscles
  • Aching joints

In addition to the above, some individuals with the condition of East African sleeping sickness will develop a rash.

The progressive signs and symptoms of the condition of East African sleeping sickness are:

  • Changes in personality
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty talking
  • Seizures

The above progressive symptoms occur once the infection has reached the central nervous system. If treatment has not commenced right away, the infection will worsen and death can be expected within a few weeks to a few months.

The signs and symptoms of West African sleeping sickness are as follows:

  • Chancre
  • Rash
  • Swelling around eyes
  • Swelling of hands
  • Fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Severe headaches
  • Aching muscles
  • Aching joints
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Progressive signs and symptoms of the condition of West African sleeping sickness are as follows:

  • Irritability
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in personality
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty walking
  • Seizures

Another very common symptom of this condition is sleeping for long periods of time during the day and then suffering from insomnia at night. If not treated properly, death can be expected within a few months to a few years after the condition is contracted.

When Do Symptoms Manifest?

The signs and symptoms of East African sleeping sickness will most likely manifest between 1-4 weeks of contracting the condition.

On the other hand, it may take months to even years for the signs and symptoms of West African sleeping sickness to manifest.

What to Do if You Suspect You Have Sleeping Sickness

If you believe that you may have contracted sleeping sickness, you should immediately get in touch with your physician.

You must tell him or her which type of sleeping sickness you believe you have contracted. He or she will then order several tests to check for the parasite.

Some of the most common tests for sleeping sickness include the following:

  • Spinal tap
  • Skin biopsy
  • Blood samples
  • Lymph node fluids

Treating Sleeping Sickness

Of course, as already mentioned, if left untreated, both conditions will result in death. Therefore, medical treatment for the condition of East African sleeping sickness should begin as soon as possible based upon the signs and symptoms as well as the lab results.

Medications are available through the CDC and hospitalization will be necessary. Periodic follow-up exams including a spinal tap will be necessary for a period of two years.

Medication for treating West African sleeping sickness is also available. This also requires hospitalization and treatment will be based upon lab results and the individual’s signs and symptoms. You will be required to have follow-up visits, including spinal taps, for a period of two years.

Who is at Risk?

The condition of East African sleeping sickness is most often found in savannah and woodland areas away from the general human population.

Individuals such as those working or visiting in a game park, hunters, tourists, or game wardens are at an increased risk for contracting this form of sleeping sickness.

On the other hand, the condition of West African sleeping sickness is most often found in areas of thick vegetation near watering holes and rivers.

The risk of infection with this condition increases each time an individual is bitten. Therefore, it is believed that the tourists are not really at risk for contracting this condition unless they are in the area for long periods of time.

Tips for Preventing Contraction of Sleeping Sickness

While there is not a vaccine or medication you can take to prevent contracting the condition of sleeping sickness, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.

  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect yourself. Make sure that they are made from a thick material, as the tsetse fly can bite through clothing.
  • Avoid very bright or very dark clothing, instead choosing khaki or olive colored clothing.
  • Be sure to use an insect repellant- though they are not necessarily effective at keeping the tsetse flies away, they do keep other insects from biting you.
  • Use bed netting at night.
  • Check your vehicle before getting in.
  • Never ride in open vehicles, as the flies are attracted to the dust created by moving objects.
  • Stay away from bushes- tsetse flies are usually dormant during the day, but will bite if you disturb them.

Comments

comments

1 Comment

  • I never knew trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) affects human beings too. I usually use it as a joke on people that sleep too much. So it actually does exist in humans and it is fatal too. I only knew it as a disease affecting cattle from my high school days. Very enlightening. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Comment