Tsetse Flies and Trypanosomiasis

There are two types of Trypanosomiasis the West African version and the Gambian version. Both are caused by a type of tsetse fly indigenous to that particular region they are named for. Either Trypanosomiasis type, they are both called the sleeping sickness.

It is estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that as many as 100,000 cases combined occur each year. The primary cause is due to the bite of the tsetse fly infected by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei gambiense.

Transmission and Symptoms of the Sleeping Sickness

The most probable means of getting Trypanosomiasis aka sleeping sickness is through the bite from an infected tsetse fly. However, there are rare times where the illness could spread through an organ transplant, blood transfusion or even pregnancy, where the mom could pass it to her baby.

This sleeping sickness is definitely fatal if not treated as promptly as possible. You know that you have a chance of getting it when you are bitten by the tsetse fly and you’ll know it because it can be quite painful.

Within two weeks of being bitten by an infected fly, the bite area develops a read hard lesion that doctors call a chancre. It may take anywhere from several weeks to a few months before the remaining symptoms of sleeping sickness occurs. These signs of this disease include rash, bad headaches, swollen hands and eyes, fever, drastic fatigue, aching joints and sore muscles. Your lymph nodes at the back of your neck may swell as well.

The Trypanosomiasis becomes markedly worse as you lose weight and become more confuses and disoriented. You may encounter irritability, slurred speech, seizures, personality changes, focusing issues and even problems with talking and walking.

These progressive symptoms signal that the infection has crossed into the central nervous system. Prolonged day sleeping and night insomnia is common. Without treatment, it takes as little as a few months to even up to several years before death occur.

Treatment Options for the Sleeping Sickness

If you are exhibiting signs of the sleeping sickness and you visited Africa not that long ago, you should visit with your primary care doctor and express your concerns. Chances are they will order blood work to test for the Trypanosomiasis parasite that causes the illness. In addition, collected fluid from swollen lymph nodes and even spinal fluid is often tested for definitive answers.

While there is no cure or vaccine for sleeping sickness, there are treatment options available. Each option is different and based on your health before the illness as well as present symptoms and the results of the blood work. Admission into the hospital is necessary and you would be required to submit to follow-ups tests and examinations as well as regular spinal taps for up to two years after the sleeping sickness goes away.

Avoiding the risk of getting bitten by the tsetse fly is the best defense against Trypanosomiasis. Therefore, during your African travels, you will want to avoid the thick clusters of trees and shrubbery that are often found around ponds, rivers and other water areas.

These are areas that the tsetse fly loves to harbor in. And unless you plan to go totally rural, chances are that you will not encounter a tsetse fly but there is always an exception to the rule.

Other ways to avoid the bite of the tsetse fly include wearing dark clothing which is protective with long sleeves and pants. The material should be thick and dark as the fly usually likes bright colors.

Use insect repellants as often as needed. Bed netting is important for keeping the bugs away from you during the year. Avoid bushes as they provide a haven for the flies; also, avoid dusty areas as the flies are attracted to the dirt and dust.