Sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis): see the symptoms


What is Sleep Disease?

The Human Disease or African Human Trypanosomiasis (THA), is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei and transmitted through the bite of the Tsetse fly ( Glossina palpalis ). The disease is known as “sleep” because of unconsciousness and the discomfort it causes in the patient.

Almost half a million people are affected by the disease annually, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). It is believed that 80% of infected people die from sleeping sickness after presenting symptoms, such as tiredness , high fever , seizures and severe pain.

Although mortality is high, there is a cure for the disease. The number of mortality is large due to the delay in diagnosis and also because the treatment has high prices.

Causes and transmission

The cause of the disease is a parasite known as Trypanosoma brucei , it is transmitted through the bite of tsetse flies that are found in Africa, more specifically in the hot and humid regions spread in 36 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa.

The fly acquires the parasite by biting infected humans or animals. There are several places where the parasite can stay, such as in humans and animals, whether domestic, wild or livestock.

There are still two more ways to transmit the disease, but these are not very common, it is contamination in laboratories through contaminated needles or transmission from mother to child.


The types of sleeping sickness are divided according to the territories in which they live and also due to the subspecies of parasite existing in the infection.

Trypanosona brucei gambiense

This is the most common form of the disease, about 98% of cases are transmitted by this parasite. In this situation, the patient can go months and even years without showing any symptoms, causing an advanced stage of the disease when diagnosed.

The African sites affected by this parasite are part of the western and central areas.

Trypanosona brucei rhodesiense

This form of parasite is found in the minority of patients, causing acute infection. The symptoms are noticed weeks or months after the transmission, and the infection develops quickly reaching the CNS (central nervous system).

This parasite is found in eastern and southern Africa.

Parasite life cycle

The parasite is found in the saliva of Aniel flies and is injected into patients when they feed on blood. T. brucei does not invade cells or assume the form of an amastigote but feeds and multiplies as a trypomastigote in body fluids, including extracellular fluid and blood in tissues.

The Glossina fly is infected by the parasite when it feeds on human blood. In a month the parasite takes on various forms while it multiplies in the fly, reaching the insect’s saliva.

Risk factors

Rural areas where there is an incidence of sleeping sickness that practice fishing, cattle raising, hunting or even have agriculture are more susceptible to the disease.

Symptoms of Sleep Disease

Symptoms can be separated into two stages. The first are with non-specific symptoms, are generalized, such as:

  • Fever;
  • Headache;
  • Joint pain.

The symptoms of the second stage are a little more specific but still very comprehensive. The most known are:

  • Sweating;
  • Changes in mood or behavior;
  • Convulsions;
  • Anxiety;
  • Mental confusion;
  • Increase of lymph nodes (languages);
  • Sensory and coordination disorders;
  • Sleep is also disturbed, during the night the person remains awake and feels a lot of desire to sleep during the day.

If sleeping sickness is not treated, it can pose serious health risks and even become fatal.


The diagnosis can be made by an infectologist or else by a general practitioner. As the disease is common only in African countries, it is rare for Brazilian people to be affected. It is only possible if the patient has traveled to the contaminated areas. If this occurs, it is recommended to go to a Traveller’s Clinic, which is located in large cities. These places are the best prepared to assist patients in these conditions.

During the consultation, the doctor will ask several questions to try to identify the problem. The questions will be directed to the trip and the places visited, in addition to knowing about the symptoms, including also medical history.

The diagnosis is difficult to make at the beginning of the disease, but it is the easiest stage to be treated, so it should be made as soon as possible.


Treatment is done only with medications. In the first stage of the disease, medications are easy to use, as they have low toxicity. In the second stage, the drug must pass the blood-brain barrier in order to reach the parasite, causing greater adverse reactions.

In the first stage of the disease, the active ingredients suramin and pentamidine are indicated for treatment. In the second stage, the active ingredients indicated are NECT, or nifurtimox-eflornithine, which is a therapeutic combination suggested by the WHO.

The drugs indicated for treatment are:

  • Duoflam ;
  • Diprospan .

Despite being mentioned in the text, never use these drugs without assistance and medical advice.


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained on this site is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.

Living with the problem

One of the main complications of the disease is the sleep that the patient will feel during the day because he has problems sleeping at night, and there may even be damage to the central nervous system, coma and even death.

The sooner it is diagnosed, the more chance the patient has of surviving the disease. When symptoms worsen, the patient’s health situation worsens together. In the past few years, the number of the disease has decreased and the World Health Organization has entered into partnerships with industries, and pharmaceutical foundations so that more information can be discovered about the disease. When something new is discovered, it is sent to the countries that suffer most from the parasite.


Prevention is to avoid contaminated sites and protect yourself against tsetse fly bites. The clothes have an important function, it is recommended to wear thick clothes and long sleeves so that the fly does not have access to the skin.

Learn more tips on how to prevent flies:

  • Use repellent;
  • Use protective screens;
  • Use luminous electrical devices that attract and kill flies;
  • Destroying populations of this type of fly is effective in eradicating the disease.

Share this text with your friends and family so that they are also informed about the disease. Although the infection does not occur in Brazil, it is important to know to help people who may have traveled to Africa and have some symptoms of sleeping sickness.