African trypanosomiasis is a very serious tropical disease. Most people know it as sleeping sickness. It often results in death even though it is treatable. This is mainly caused by the fact that sleeping sickness is transmitted by tsetse flies found only in rural Africa. Many patients in these poverty-stricken regions do not receive the essential medical aid. Nonetheless, travelers who visit these areas of African continent are also at risk of contracting sleeping sickness. It is important for them to know the symptoms and consult their doctor upon suspicion of the illness.
Types of African trypanosomiasis
Sleeping sickness can occur in one of two forms. These are named after the regions of Africa where they were originally found. Each type is caused by different sub-species of the same parasite. Usually, people with East African form of sleeping sickness start showing symptoms within one to three weeks after infection. This type of infection progresses more rapidly than the other one. On the other hand, symptoms of West African trypanosomiasis usually become apparent within few months to year after the infection.
Symptoms of sleeping sickness
The first sign of the infection is the red sore at the place of the bite. However, not all patients develop this sore. Other common symptoms during the first stage of the disease are swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fever, aching muscles and joints, extreme fatigue and sweating. Patients with West African type may also experience itching skin, swelling of the face and hands, rash and weight loss.
Other symptoms occur as the infection advances into the second stage. That happens when the infection invades the central nervous system. These symptoms include confusion, anxiety, increased sleepiness, mood changes, drowsiness and insomnia at night. Patients will eventually end in state of a coma and die.
Several drugs are used for treating the sleeping sickness. Use of the specific medication differs depending on the stage of development of the disease. The medication used may also depend on the type of sleeping sickness. The drugs for treating African trypanosomiasis include eflornithine, melarsoprol, pentamidine and suramin.
Pentamidine and suramin are only used in early stages of the disease. They are effective against both types of sleeping sickness. Melarsoprol and eflornithine are used during advanced stages of the disease. The first one is effective against both types. However, eflornithine is only effective against West African trypanosomiasis.
To conclude, sleeping sickness is usually fatal when a patient does not receive proper treatment. People who visit or live in rural areas of Africa should know the symptoms of this deadly disease and consult their doctor in case of a suspected infection.