Sleeping sickness

Sleeping sickness /African trypanosomosis or African sleeping sickness/ is an infection that many of us learned about in childhood, from the pages of adventure novels by Jules Verne and Louis Bussenaard.

Famous writers have described the symptoms of sleeping sickness and its terrible consequences quite colorfully, which, however, cannot be called exaggerated at all, because in reality most of the infected do not manage to survive.

In the human body, the causative agent of sleeping sickness after being bitten by the tsetse fly /genus Glossina/, from which it is possible to make animals and humans sick, since this type of insect is the carrier of the pathogenic parasites of the genus Trypanosoma.

The disease is widespread on the African continent.

Every year African trypanosomosis is diagnosed in about 50-70 thousand people, but the number of infected people is constantly decreasing, which is connected with urbanization and improvement of the quality of life in developing countries.

Scientists distinguish two forms of African sleeping sickness – Gambian, spread around large lakes and along river valleys, and Rhodesian, on the contrary, typical of savannas and often found in areas of deforested tropical forests.

The causative agents of African trypanosomosis are flat parasites with an elongated spindle-shaped shape.

They are very small 12-20 microns in length, but mobile and easily move from one place to another with the help of a translucent membrane.

What are the symptoms and clinical picture of the disease?

The tsetse fly inoculates the parasites in the subcutaneous space of the person by bloodsucking.

A small amount of the trypanosomes immediately enters the blood, but a large part of them remain at the site of the bite, where their active reproduction begins and a characteristic painful nodule is formed – chancre.

Subsequently, the parasites begin to spread throughout the body through interstitial spaces and lymphatic vessels. Interestingly, sleeping sickness is constantly mutating.

The first generation of trypanosomes dies due to the antibodies formed by the immune system, but in the course of this invisible struggle, a new antigenic form of the infection is formed.

At the same time, 1 strain of sleeping sickness forms several hundred new variants of the parasites that cause it.

And precisely because of this, it is not surprising that in the absence of adequate treatment, a person is absolutely defenseless against African sleeping sickness.

It is also worrying that scientists still have no idea how exactly trypanosomes damage tissues.

As for the symptoms of the disease, the Rhodesian form is more acute and severe compared to the Gambian, but in general the signs of infection in both forms are practically the same – the presence of an entrance chancre – a painful nodule at the site of trypanosome inoculation .

Appears 5-7 days after the infectious organisms causing the disease enter the human body.

The chancre can appear anywhere on the body, sometimes it becomes ulcerated, but in the end it always heals spontaneously without leaving a scar. The following symptoms also occur:

• Relapsing fever – with periods of increase and normalization of body temperature;
• Insomnia and severe headache;
• Difficult concentration and development of tachycardia;

Treatment of sleeping sickness

Suramin, the organic compounds of arsenic and pentamidine are traditionally used in this disease. Eflornithine is often used, which is particularly effective in the Gambian form.

The specific methods of treatment depend on the degree of involvement of the central nervous system, the resistance of the causative agent to medicinal preparations and the general state of health of the patient.

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