African Trypanosomiasis


African Trypanosomiasis, commonly called Sleeping Sickness, is a disease caused when the Trypanosoma parasite is transmitted to humans and animals, normally by the bite of the Tsetse Fly.
Sleeping Sickness is very common in certain regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that includes 36 countries and around 60 million people.

Current estimates are that between 50,000 and 70,000 people are currently infected with Sleeping Sickness, although the number does appear to be declining in recent years.

Three major Sleeping Sickness epidemics have occurred in the past hundred years or so, the last being in 1970.


The early symptoms of African Trypanosomiasis, commonly called Sleeping Sickness, include:

  • Fever

  • Headaches

  • Joint pain

  • Swollen lymph nodes, which can become very large.

Winterbottom’s Sign are swollen lymph glands along the back of the neck, and these are a common indicator of Sleeping Sickness.

If left untreated, the disease slowly overcomes the bodys defenses, and spreads to cause anemia, and impair the function of the endocrine and cardiac systems, and kidneys.

Finally, if still left untreated, the parasite will cross the blood-brain barrier and enters the brain. This is called the Neurological Phase of the disease, and the symptoms now include:

  • Confusion

  • Reduced coordination

  • Sleep disturbances with bouts of fatigue punctuated with manic periods progressing to daytime slumber and nighttime insomnia.

Without treatment, the disease will cause continuing mental deterioration, and eventually lead to coma and death.

Even if treated, damage caused during the Neurological Phase of the disease can be irreversible.


The disease is found in two forms, depending on the particular parasite that causes the disease, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (T.b. gambiense) and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense (T.b. rhodesiense).
In central and western Africa, T.b. gambiense causes a chronic condition that can exist in an infected person for months or years before symptoms emerge.

This type of infection means that people don’t seek treatment because they simply do not know they have the disease until in has been in their body for a long time.

In southern and eastern Africa, T.b. rhodesiense causes an infection whose symptoms emerge within a few weeks and is more virulent and faster developing.

These parasites are members of the same genus as the parasites that cause Chagas Disease (American Trypanosomiasis) and also a member of the same order as the parasites that cause Leishmaniasis.