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Tsetse Fly Disease: Ultimate Guide to Human African Trypanosomiasis & Animal Trypanosomiasis (Sleeping Sickness)

Human African trypanosomiasis, which is also called sleeping sickness. It is a scrounging disease. There are parasites which belong to Trypanosoma genes, and they cause this infection. Tsetse fly bites transmit this infection from person to another. They get this infection either from humans or animals.

There are two types of this disease:

  • Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense: In southern and eastern Africa almost 13 countries are affected with this form of sleeping sickness. It is responsible for 4% of sleeping sickness reports which grounds chronic infection. Just after some months’ time, symptoms are recognizable, but it affects the nervous system very quickly.
  • Trypanosoma brucei gambiense: It is responsible for 96% of reports as sleeping sickness which grounds chronic infection. You cannot observe the symptoms in early months, and when it is diagnosed, the patient is already in stage 2 which is the critical one. 24 countries of west and central Africa are affected by it.

Who is at Risk?

We know the disease is transmitted through various modes. We shall now discuss who is at risk. We have categorized it into mainly two parts. People who are living in Africa and those who are traveling to Africa.

1. Living in Parts of Africa

Research has shown that tsetse flies are mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa, but there are only some species that transmit the disease. For this reason, there are many regions where tsetse flies are, but sleeping sickness is not there. It is mostly occurred in rural populations because of exposure of tsetse flies to agriculture, hunting, animal husbandry and fishing which results in disease transmission. The disease then spread from a single village to the whole region. However, the intensity of disease can change.

This disease has affected almost 36 sub-Saharan African countries. Most of the people do not have access to proper health service because many of them live in remote rural areas.

2. Those who are Traveling in Africa

If the disease is in the certain affected area, the people who are traveling can also get affected. Therefore the people in living in the sub-Saharan Africa or those who are traveling in these areas can easily be affected by the disease. The travelers who are mostly outside and going to games parks are at risk. There is no vaccination by which they can prevent themselves.

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Medical research has revealed that there are two stages of this disease. Both have different symptoms.

  • At stage one which is named as haemo-lymphatic infection affects tissues, swollen lymph nodes, and blood. It results in joint pains, headaches, fever, weakness, and irritation.
  • In stage 2, it affects the nervous system by crossing the barrier between blood and brain. It called as a neurological stage. At this stage, you can observe more clear symptoms such as bad coordination, confusion, and behavioral change, disturbance in senses, coma and sleeping cycle disturbance.

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Treatments are different for stage 1 and stage 2 of disease.

  • The drugs for stage 1 are safe and can be administered easily as compared to the 2nd Earlier it is identified, more chances of cure are possible.  The patient has to do follow up for almost 24 months with regular blood tests because infection or parasites remain in the body and there are chances that they can reproduce again.
  • Treatments for the 2ndstage are extreme as they cross the barrier between brain and blood to cure parasites.  They are challenging to administer.

Drugs to treat 1st stage:

There are mainly five drugs for sleeping sickness treatment.

  • Pentamidine: It is common for the 1ststage treatment of gambiense and found in 1940. It can be tolerated well by patients apart from few side effects which are non-negligible.
  • Suramin: It is common for the 1st stage treatment of gambiense sleeping sickness and found in 1920. The certain side effects of this drug are different allergies and urinary tract infection.

Drugs for the 2nd stage:

  • Melarsoprol: It is best for the rhodesiense and gambiense infections treatment and comes with many unwanted side effect such as reactive encephalopathy which is from 3%- 10% lethal. In central Africa, there has been resistance to this drug. Medical research has shown that rhodesiense is treated though this drug and it is effective for gambiense as well.
  • Eflornithine: This drug is less noxious than melarsoprol and used only for treatment of gambiense. It is complex to administer and apply.
  • Nifurtimox: The treatment by combining eflornithine and nifurtimox was founded in 2009. The drug is helpful in reducing the timings of usage and IV perfusions by the use of eflornithine. However according to medical research and clinical trials this drug including eflornithine is effective in the treatment of the 1st form of gambiense.

Effective Prevention Tips

We came to know that the tsetse fly bite causes sleeping sickness and is transmitted through other ways such as:

  • It can be transferred from a pregnant mother to a child by crossing the placenta which is affecting the fetus.
  • It is also transmitted by the insects that suck blood.
  • In labs, contaminated needles are also contributing infections with pricks.
  • The parasite can also be transmitted through sexual interaction.

Following are some of the effective prevention tips:

1. Wearing Long Sleeve and Neutral-colored Clothing

It is better to cover yourself by wearing long sleeves shirts full pants and caps. Don’t wear any thin fabric as tsetse fly can bite through. It is better to wear thick fabric. Tsetse fly attracts towards bright and dark colors. So, it is better to wear light and neutral colors.

2. Avoid Bushes during the Day

It is better to avoid going in bushes in the day time as when tsetse flies are not very active. They rest in bushes and if disturbed can bite.

3. Inspect Vehicles

It is always better to check your car for tsetse flies before entering. The flies are usually present in moving cars.

4. Stay in Air Conditioned Rooms

It is better to stay in air conditioned rooms because these flies cannot stay in the cool room.

5. Set Tsetse Fly Traps

It is not approved, but still, you can try insect repellent if it works successfully. You should use a suitable repellent as directed. Use active ingredients with high percentages as they can protect you for a long time. These are:

  • DEET ( products like Cutter, ultrathon, and Sawyer as they contain deet).
  • Picaridin which is also named as KBR 3023 and use products like, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, cutter advanced one and autan.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus(OLE) is also very effective.
  • IR3535, you can find it in products like Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart).

Follow the instructions but don’t apply repellent to your face, hands, and others sensitive areas. Use permethrin-treated dresses and apparatus such as trousers, socks, shoes, and tents. Even after washing these dresses remain effective.

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What is Animal Trypanosomiasis?

1. Species Affected

Trypanosoma genus has parasite species and subspecies that can cause animal trypanosomiasis, especially in uninhabited and domestic animals. Nagana is the disease which is usually found in cattle. The major barrier to the economic development of the affected area is the Trypanosomiasis in domestic animals especially cattle. Animals can also get affected like a human with parasites like rhodesiense and gambiense. These uninhabited and domestic animals are mostly affected by rhodesiense and lesser by gambiense.

2. Symptoms

After 4 to 24 days you will start observing the symptoms of infection. The most common and important clinical observation is degenerative anemia.

The major symptoms are as follow:

  • Anaemia
  • Abortion
  • Lower fertility rate
  • High Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Early death
  • Lacrimation
  • Oedema
  • Weight loss
  • Milk yield reduced

3. Treatment

Till now there is no vaccination to prevent this disease. If it is diagnosed earlier, it can be cured with trypanocidal drugs mainly for therapeutic and prophylactic drives.
There are three main therapeutic drugs for cattle such as diminazene aceturate, homidium chloride, and homidium bromide. Homidium chloride, homidium bromide, and isometamidium are prophylactic drugs for cattle. The prophylactic drugs are very effective, and they can provide protection to animals for up to 3 months. However, we cannot say much about the effectiveness of these drugs as there are many side effects and Trypanosomosis can occur again.

4. Prevention

You have to find out ways to prevent this disease from occurring as it is affecting the economic development very badly. The best steps are to eliminate tsetse flies due to which this disease is transmitting from one animal or person to another.

The mostly used method of prevention is using spray. You can spray insecticide on the haunt of tsetse which results in the desolation of tsetse population. Thus by destroying tsetse flies, you can get rid of trypanosomiasis from Africa at least. It has only one drawback it is quite expensive and requires a lot of supervision, administration, and expertise of specialists.


In this article, we have studied about human African trypanosomiasis & animal trypanosomiasis and how they can be treated and prevented. It is an acute disease and can lead to death if not cured properly. Taking proper medication and doing follow ups can decrease the chances of death. Follow the prevention guidelines for yourself and animals also as they are contributing a lot to the economic development of the area.

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