African trypanosomiasis

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African trypanosomiasis
Other namesSleeping sickness, African sleeping sickness
Trypanosoma sp. PHIL 613 lores.jpg
Trypanosoma forms in a blood smear
Specialty Infectious disease
Symptoms Stage 1: Fevers, headaches, itchiness, joint pains [1]
Stage 2: Trouble sleeping, confusion, poor coordination [2] [1]
Usual onset1–3 weeks post exposure [2]
Types Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (TbG), Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense (TbR) [3]
Causes Trypanosoma brucei spread by tsetse flies [3]
Diagnostic method Blood smear, lumbar puncture [2]
Medication Fexinidazole, pentamidine, suramin, eflornithine, nifurtimox [3]
Prognosis Fatal without treatment [3]
Frequency977 (2018) [3]
Deaths3,500 (2015) [4]

African trypanosomiasis, also known as African sleeping sickness or simply sleeping sickness, is an insect-borne parasitic infection of humans and other animals. [3] It is caused by the species Trypanosoma brucei . [3] Humans are infected by two types, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (TbG) and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense (TbR). [3] TbG causes over 98% of reported cases. [1] Both are usually transmitted by the bite of an infected tsetse fly and are most common in rural areas. [3]


Initially, the first stage of the disease is characterized by fevers, headaches, itchiness, and joint pains, beginning one to three weeks after the bite. [1] [2] Weeks to months later, the second stage begins with confusion, poor coordination, numbness, and trouble sleeping. [2] Diagnosis is by finding the parasite in a blood smear or in the fluid of a lymph node. [2] A lumbar puncture is often needed to tell the difference between first- and second-stage disease. [2] If the disease is not treated quickly it can lead to death.

Prevention of severe disease involves screening the at-risk population with blood tests for TbG. [3] Treatment is easier when the disease is detected early and before neurological symptoms occur. [3] Treatment of the first stage has been with the medications pentamidine or suramin. [3] Treatment of the second stage has involved eflornithine or a combination of nifurtimox and eflornithine for TbG. [2] [3] Fexinidazole is a more recent treatment that can be taken by mouth, for either stage of TbG. [3] While melarsoprol works for both types, it is typically only used for TbR, due to serious side effects. [3] Without treatment, sleeping sickness typically results in death. [3]

The disease occurs regularly in some regions of sub-Saharan Africa with the population at risk being about 70 million in 36 countries. [5] An estimated 11,000 people are currently infected with 2,800 new infections in 2015. [6] [1] In 2018 there were 977 new cases. [3] In 2015 it caused around 3,500 deaths, down from 34,000 in 1990. [4] [7] More than 80% of these cases are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [1] Three major outbreaks have occurred in recent history: one from 1896 to 1906 primarily in Uganda and the Congo Basin, and two in 1920 and 1970, in several African countries. [1] It is classified as a neglected tropical disease. [8] Other animals, such as cows, may carry the disease and become infected in which case it is known as Nagana or animal trypanosomiasis. [1]

Signs and symptoms

African trypanosomiasis symptoms occur in two stages: the hemolymphatic stage and the neurological stage (the latter being characterised by parasitic invasion of the central nervous system). [9] [10] Neurological symptoms occur in addition to the initial features, however, and the two stages may be difficult to distinguish based on clinical features alone. [10]

The disease has been reported to present with atypical symptoms in infected individuals who originate from non-endemic areas (e.g. travelers). The reasons for this are unclear and may be genetic. The low number of such cases may also have skewed findings. In such persons, the infection is said to present mainly as fever with gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. diarrhoea and jaundice) with lymphadenopathy developing only rarely. [11]

Trypanosomal ulcer

Systemic disease is sometimes presaged by a trypanosomal ulcer developing at the site of the infectious fly bite within 2 days of infection. The ulcer is most commonly observed in T. b. rhodesiense infection, and only rarely in T. b. gambiense (however, in T. b. gambiense infection, ulcers are more common in persons from non-endemic areas). [10]

Hemolymphatic phase

Incubation period is 1–3 weeks for T. b. rhodesiense, and longer (but less precisely characterised) in T. b. gambiense infection. The first/initial stage, known as the hemolymphatic phase, is characterized by non-specific, generalised symptoms [10] like: fever (intermittent), headaches (severe [12] ), joint pains, itching, [9] [10] weakness, malaise, fatigue, weight loss, lymphadenopathy, and hepatosplenomegaly. [10]

Diagnosis may be delayed due to the vagueness of initial symptoms. The disease may also be mistaken for malaria (which may in fact occur as a co-infection). [11]

Intermittent fever

Fever is intermittent, with attacks lasting from a day to a week, separated by intervals of a few days to a month or longer. [9] [10] Episodes of fever become less frequent over the course of the disease. [10]


Invasion of the circulatory and lymphatic systems by the parasite is associated with severe swelling of lymph nodes, often to tremendous sizes. [9] Posterior cervical lymph nodes are most commonly affected, however, axillary, inguinal, and epitrochlear lymph node involvement may also occur. [10] Winterbottom's sign, the tell-tale swollen lymph nodes along the back of the neck, may appear. [9] Winterbottom's sign is common in T. b. gambiense infection. [10]

Other features

Those affected may additionally present with: skin rash, [12] haemolytic anaemia, hepatomegaly and abnormal liver function, splenomegaly, endocrine disturbance, cardiac involvement (e.g. pericarditis, and congestive heart failure), and ophthalmic involvement. [11]

Neurological phase

The second phase of the disease, the neurological phase (also called the meningoencephalic stage [10] ), begins when the parasite invades the central nervous system by passing through the blood–brain barrier. [9] Progression to the neurological phase occurs after an estimated 21–60 days in case of T. b. rhodesiense infection, and 300–500 days in case of T. b. gambiense infection. [10]

In actuality, the two phases overlap and are difficult to distinguish based on clinical features alone; determining the actual stage of the disease is achieved by examining the cerebrospinal fluid for the presence of the parasite. [10]

Sleep disorders

Sleep-wake disturbances are a leading feature of neurological stage [9] [15] and gave the disease its common name African sleeping sickness. [9] [10] [15] Infected individuals experience a disorganized and fragmented sleep-wake cycle. [9] Those affected experience sleep inversion resulting in daytime sleep [9] and somnolence, [10] and nighttime periods of wakefulness [9] and insomnia. [10] Additionally, those affected also experience episodes of sudden sleepiness. [10]

Neurological/neurocognitive symptoms

Neurological symptoms include: tremor, general muscle weakness, hemiparesis, paralysis of a limb, [16] abnormal muscle tone, gait disturbance, ataxia, speech disturbances, paraesthesia, hyperaesthesia, anaesthesia, visual disturbance, abnormal reflexes, seizures, and coma. [10] Parkinson-like movements might arise due to non-specific movement disorders and speech disorders. [16]

Psychiatric/behavioural symptoms

Individuals may exhibit psychiatric symptoms which may sometimes dominate the clinical diagnosis and may include aggressiveness, apathy, [10] [16] irritability, psychotic reactions [16] and hallucinations, anxiety, emotional lability, confusion, mania, attention deficit, and delirium. [10]

Advanced/late disease and outcomes

Without treatment, the disease is invariably fatal, with progressive mental deterioration leading to coma, systemic organ failure, and death. An untreated infection with T. b. rhodesiense will cause death within months [17] whereas an untreated infection with T. b. gambiense will cause death after several years. [18] Damage caused in the neurological phase is irreversible. [19]


The life cycle of the Trypanosoma brucei parasites AfrTryp LifeCycle.svg
The life cycle of the Trypanosoma brucei parasites

Trypanosoma brucei gambiense accounts for the majority of African trypanosomiasis cases, with humans as the main reservoir needed for the transmission, while Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense is mainly zoonotic, with the occasional human infection. [20] African trypanosomiasis is dependent on the interaction of the parasite (trypanosome) with the tsetse flies (vector), as well as the host (human for Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, and animals for Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense). [20] The risk of contracting African trypanosomiasis is dependent on coming in contact with an infected tsetse fly. [20]

Trypanosoma brucei

There are two subspecies of the parasite that are responsible for starting the disease in humans. Trypanosoma brucei gambiense causes the diseases in west and central Africa, whereas Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense has a limited geographical range and is responsible for causing the disease in east and southern Africa. In addition, a third subspecies of the parasite known as Trypanosoma brucei brucei is responsible for affecting animals but not humans. [16]

Humans are the main reservoir for T. b. gambiense but this species can also be found in pigs and other animals. Wild game animals and cattle are the main reservoir of T. b. rhodesiense. These parasites primarily infect individuals in sub-Saharan Africa because that is where the vector (tsetse fly) is located. The two human forms of the disease also vary greatly in intensity. T. b. gambiense causes a chronic condition that can remain in a passive phase for months or years before symptoms emerge and the infection can last about three years before death occurs. [16]

T. b. rhodesiense is the acute form of the disease, and death can occur within months since the symptoms emerge within weeks and it is more virulent and faster developing than T. b. gambiense. Furthermore, trypanosomes are surrounded by a coat that is composed of variant surface glycoproteins (VSG). These proteins act to protect the parasite from any lytic factors that are present in human plasma. The host's immune system recognizes the glycoproteins present on the coat of the parasite leading to the production of different antibodies (IgM and IgG). [16]

These antibodies will then act to destroy the parasites that circulate around the blood. However, from the several parasites present in the plasma, a small number of them will experience changes in their surface coats resulting in the formation of new VSGs. Thus, the antibodies produced by the immune system will no longer recognize the parasite leading to proliferation until new antibodies are created to combat the novel VSGs. Eventually, the immune system will no longer be able to fight off the parasite due to the constant changes in VSGs and infection will arise. [16]


Chronic T. brucei gambiense Western AfricaG. palpalis

G. tachinoides

G. fuscipes

G. morsitans

Acute T. brucei rhodesiense Eastern AfricaG. morsitans

G. swynnertoni

G. pallidipes

G. fuscipes

Drawing of a tsetse fly from 1880 Tsetsemeyers1880.jpg
Drawing of a tsetse fly from 1880

The tsetse fly (genus Glossina) is a large, brown, biting fly that serves as both a host and vector for the trypanosome parasites. While taking blood from a mammalian host, an infected tsetse fly injects metacyclic trypomastigotes into skin tissue. From the bite, parasites first enter the lymphatic system and then pass into the bloodstream. Inside the mammalian host, they transform into bloodstream trypomastigotes, and are carried to other sites throughout the body, reach other body fluids (e.g., lymph, spinal fluid), and continue to replicate by binary fission.[ citation needed ]

The entire life cycle of African trypanosomes is represented by extracellular stages. A tsetse fly becomes infected with bloodstream trypomastigotes when taking a blood meal on an infected mammalian host. In the fly's midgut, the parasites transform into procyclic trypomastigotes, multiply by binary fission, leave the midgut, and transform into epimastigotes. The epimastigotes reach the fly's salivary glands and continue multiplication by binary fission.[ citation needed ]

The entire life cycle of the fly takes about three weeks. In addition to the bite of the tsetse fly, the disease can be transmitted by:

Horse-flies (Tabanidae) and stable flies (Muscidae) possibly play a role in transmission of nagana (the animal form of sleeping sickness) and the human disease form. [23]


Tryptophol is a chemical compound produced by the trypanosomal parasite in sleeping sickness which induces sleep in humans. [24]


Two areas from a blood smear from a person with African trypanosomiasis, thin blood smear stained with Giemsa: Typical trypomastigote stages (the only stages found in people), with a posterior kinetoplast, a centrally located nucleus, an undulating membrane, and an anterior flagellum. The two Trypanosoma brucei subspecies that cause human trypanosomiasis, T. b. gambiense and T. b. rhodesiense, are indistinguishable morphologically. The trypanosomes' length range is 14 to 33 um, Source: CDC Afric tryp 1a DPDxi.jpg
Two areas from a blood smear from a person with African trypanosomiasis, thin blood smear stained with Giemsa: Typical trypomastigote stages (the only stages found in people), with a posterior kinetoplast, a centrally located nucleus, an undulating membrane, and an anterior flagellum. The two Trypanosoma brucei subspecies that cause human trypanosomiasis, T. b. gambiense and T. b. rhodesiense, are indistinguishable morphologically. The trypanosomes' length range is 14 to 33 µm, Source: CDC

The gold standard for diagnosis is identification of trypanosomes in a sample by microscopic examination. Samples that can be used for diagnosis include ulcer fluid, lymph node aspirates, blood, bone marrow, and, during the neurological stage, cerebrospinal fluid. Detection of trypanosome-specific antibodies can be used for diagnosis, but the sensitivity and specificity of these methods are too variable to be used alone for clinical diagnosis. Further, seroconversion occurs after the onset of clinical symptoms during a T. b. rhodesiense infection, so is of limited diagnostic use.[ citation needed ]

Trypanosomes can be detected from samples using two different preparations. A wet preparation can be used to look for the motile trypanosomes. Alternatively, a fixed (dried) smear can be stained using Giemsa's or Field's technique and examined under a microscope. Often, the parasite is in relatively low abundance in the sample, so techniques to concentrate the parasites can be used prior to microscopic examination. For blood samples, these include centrifugation followed by examination of the buffy coat; mini anion-exchange/centrifugation; and the quantitative buffy coat (QBC) technique. For other samples, such as spinal fluid, concentration techniques include centrifugation followed by examination of the sediment.[ citation needed ]

Three serological tests are also available for detection of the parasite: the micro-CATT (card agglutination test for trypanosomiasis), wb-CATT, and wb-LATEX. The first uses dried blood, while the other two use whole blood samples. A 2002 study found the wb-CATT to be the most efficient for diagnosis, while the wb-LATEX is a better exam for situations where greater sensitivity is required. [25]


Capture devices for tsetse flies, on shore and on a boat in Africa. Efforts to prevent sleeping sickness. PreventionSS.jpg
Capture devices for tsetse flies, on shore and on a boat in Africa. Efforts to prevent sleeping sickness.

Currently there are few medically related prevention options for African trypanosomiasis (i.e. no vaccine exists for immunity). Although the risk of infection from a tsetse fly bite is minor (estimated at less than 0.1%), the use of insect repellants, wearing long-sleeved clothing, avoiding tsetse-dense areas, implementing bush clearance methods and wild game culling are the best options to avoid infection available for local residents of affected areas. [16]

In July 2000, a resolution was passed to form the Pan African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Campaign (PATTEC). The campaign works to eradicate the tsetse vector population levels and subsequently the protozoan disease, by use of insecticide-impregnated targets, fly traps, insecticide-treated cattle, ultra-low dose aerial/ground spraying (SAT) of tsetse resting sites and the sterile insect technique (SIT). [27] The use of SIT in Zanzibar proved effective in eliminating the entire population of tsetse flies but was expensive and is relatively impractical to use in many of the endemic countries afflicted with African trypanosomiasis. [28]

A pilot program in Senegal has reduced the tsetse fly population by as much as 99% by introducing male flies which have been sterilized by exposure to gamma rays. [29] [30]

Regular active surveillance, involving detection and prompt treatment of new infections, and tsetse fly control is the backbone of the strategy used to control sleeping sickness. Systematic screening of at-risk communities is the best approach, because case-by-case screening is not practical in endemic regions. Systematic screening may be in the form of mobile clinics or fixed screening centres where teams travel daily to areas of high infection rates. Such screening efforts are important because early symptoms are not evident or serious enough to warrant people with gambiense disease to seek medical attention, particularly in very remote areas. Also, diagnosis of the disease is difficult and health workers may not associate such general symptoms with trypanosomiasis. Systematic screening allows early-stage disease to be detected and treated before the disease progresses, and removes the potential human reservoir. [31] A single case of sexual transmission of West African sleeping sickness has been reported. [22]


First stage

The treatment for first-stage disease is fexinidazole by mouth or pentamidine by injection for T. b. gambiense. [3] Suramin by injection is used for T. b. rhodesiense. [3]

Second stage

Fexinidazole may be used for the second stage of TbG, if the disease is not severe. [32] [3] Otherwise a regimen involving the combination of nifurtimox and eflornithine, nifurtimox-eflornithine combination treatment (NECT), or eflornithine alone appear to be more effective and result in fewer side effects. [33] These treatments may replace melarsoprol when available. [33] [2] NECT has the benefit of requiring less injections of eflornithine. [33]

Intravenous melarsoprol was previously the standard treatment for second-stage (neurological phase) disease and is effective for both types. [2] Melarsoprol is the only treatment for second stage T. b. rhodesiense; however, it causes death in 5% of people who take it. [2] Resistance to melarsoprol can occur. [2]


If untreated, T. b. gambiense almost always results in death, with only a few individuals shown in a long-term 15 year follow-up to have survived after refusing treatment. T. b. rhodesiense, being a more acute and severe form of the disease, is consistently fatal if not treated. [2]

Disease progression greatly varies depending on disease form. For individuals which are infected by T. b. gambiense, which accounts for 98% of all of the reported cases, a person can be infected for months or even years without signs or symptoms until the advanced disease stage, where it is too late to be treated successfully. For individuals affected by T. b. rhodesiense, which accounts for 2% of all reported cases, symptoms appear within weeks or months of the infection. Disease progression is rapid and invades the central nervous system, causing death within a short amount of time. [34]


Deaths per 100,000 population due to African trypanosomiasis by country in 2002 African trypanosomiasis deaths 2002.svg
Deaths per 100,000 population due to African trypanosomiasis by country in 2002

In 2010, it caused around 9,000 deaths, down from 34,000 in 1990. [7] As of 2000, the disability-adjusted life-years (9 to 10 years) lost due to sleeping sickness are 2.0 million. [36] From 2010 to 2014, there was an estimated 55 million people at risk for gambiense African Trypanosomiasis and over 6 million people at risk for rhodesiense African trypanosomiasis. [37] In 2014, the World Health Organization reported 3,797 cases of Human African Trypanosomiasis when the predicted number of cases were to be 5,000. The number of total reported cases in 2014 is an 86% reduction to the total number of cases reported in 2000. [37]

The disease has been recorded as occurring in 37 countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa. It occurs regularly in southeast Uganda and western Kenya, and killed more than 48,000 Africans in 2008. [19] The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most affected country in the world, accounting for 75% of the Trypanosoma brucei gambiense cases. [20] The population at risk being about 69 million with one third of this number being at a 'very high' to 'moderate' risk and the remaining two thirds at a 'low' to 'very low' risk. [5] The number of people being affected by the disease has declined. At this rate, sleeping sickness elimination is a possibility. The World Health Organization plans to eradicate sleeping sickness by 2030. [37] [38]

Trypanosoma brucei gambiense [39] 19901991199219931994199519961997199819992000200120022003200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Burkina Faso27272017181312115150000000000000001000000
Central African Republic308197362262368676492730106886998871857253973866646065411941054395132381591941471247657863944
Côte d'Ivoire365349456260206326240185121104188929768744229131488109763032101
Democratic Republic of the Congo75155825775711384190211818219342250942631818684169511730013816114591033910249801381557318717856245590596856473205235117691110660604395425
Equatorial Guinea633645308537466762281617322322171315117812300344313
South Sudan675828626956157737172613121801191931213061174218537894696233731992723171176345171217111510
Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense [40] 19901991199219931994199519961997199819992000200120022003200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Mozambique37241016No dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo data1No data1No dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo data
United Republic of Tanzania1871773662623194224003542992883502772281131591861271265914514112330311
Zambia7No data41113No dataNo data15945159761013483661282351563
ZimbabweNo dataNo dataNo dataNo data1No dataNo data9No dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo dataNo data3No dataNo data03249133110200


In 1903, David Bruce recognized the tsetse fly as the arthropod vector. Davidbruce.JPG
In 1903, David Bruce recognized the tsetse fly as the arthropod vector.

The condition has been present in Africa for thousands of years. [41] Because of a lack of travel between indigenous people, sleeping sickness in humans had been limited to isolated pockets. This changed after Arab slave traders entered central Africa from the east, following the Congo River, bringing parasites along. Gambian sleeping sickness travelled up the Congo River, and then further east. [42]

An Arab writer of the 14th century left the following description in the case of a sultan of the Mali Kingdom: "His end was to be overtaken by the sleeping sickness (illat an-nawm) which is a disease that frequently befalls the inhabitants of these countries especially their chieftains. Sleep overtakes one of them in such a manner that it is hardly possible to awake him." [42]

The British naval surgeon John Atkins described the disease on his return from West Africa in 1734: [42]

The Sleepy Distemper (common among the Negroes) gives no other previous Notice, than a want of Appetite 2 or 3 days before; their sleeps are sound, and Sense and Feeling very little; for pulling, drubbing or whipping will scarce stir up Sense and Power enough to move; and the Moment you cease beating the smart is forgot, and down they fall again into a state of Insensibility, drivling constantly from the Mouth as in deep salivation; breathe slowly, but not unequally nor snort. Young people are more subject to it than the old; and the Judgement generally pronounced is Death, the Prognostik seldom failing. If now and then one of them recovers, he certainly loses the little Reason he had, and turns Ideot...

French naval surgeon Marie-Théophile Griffon du Bellay treated and described cases while stationed aboard the hospital ship Caravane in Gabon in the late 1860s. [43]

In 1901, a devastating epidemic erupted in Uganda, killing more than 250,000 people, [44] including about two-thirds of the population in the affected lakeshore areas. According to The Cambridge History of Africa, "It has been estimated that up to half the people died of sleeping-sickness and smallpox in the lands on either bank of the lower river Congo." [45]

The causative agent and vector were identified in 1903 by David Bruce, and the subspecies of the protozoa were differentiated in 1910. Bruce had earlier shown that T. brucei was the cause of a similar disease in horses and cattle that was transmitted by the tsetse fly (Glossina morsitans). [42]

The first effective treatment, atoxyl, an arsenic-based drug developed by Paul Ehrlich and Kiyoshi Shiga, was introduced in 1910, but blindness was a serious side effect.

Suramin was first synthesized by Oskar Dressel and Richard Kothe in 1916 for Bayer. It was introduced in 1920 to treat the first stage of the disease. By 1922, Suramin was generally combined with tryparsamide (another pentavalent organoarsenic drug), the first drug to enter the nervous system and be useful in the treatment of the second stage of the gambiense form. Tryparsamide was announced in the Journal of Experimental Medicine in 1919 and tested in the Belgian Congo by Louise Pearce of the Rockefeller Institute in 1920. It was used during the grand epidemic in West and Central Africa on millions of people and was the mainstay of therapy until the 1960s. [46] American medical missionary Arthur Lewis Piper was active in using tryparsamide to treat sleeping sickness in the Belgian Congo in 1925. [47]

Pentamidine, a highly effective drug for the first stage of the disease, has been used since 1937. [48] During the 1950s, it was widely used as a prophylactic agent in western Africa, leading to a sharp decline in infection rates. At the time, eradication of the disease was thought to be at hand.[ citation needed ] [49]

The organoarsenical melarsoprol (Arsobal) developed in the 1940s is effective for people with second-stage sleeping sickness. However, 3–10% of those injected have reactive encephalopathy (convulsions, progressive coma, or psychotic reactions), and 10–70% of such cases result in death; it can cause brain damage in those who survive the encephalopathy. However, due to its effectiveness, melarsoprol is still used today. Resistance to melarsoprol is increasing, and combination therapy with nifurtimox is currently under research.[ citation needed ]

Eflornithine (difluoromethylornithine or DFMO), the most modern treatment, was developed in the 1970s by Albert Sjoerdsma and underwent clinical trials in the 1980s. The drug was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1990. [50] Aventis, the company responsible for its manufacture, halted production in 1999. In 2001, Aventis, in association with Médecins Sans Frontières and the World Health Organization, signed a long-term agreement to manufacture and donate the drug.[ citation needed ]

In addition to sleeping sickness, previous names have included negro lethargy, maladie du sommeil (Fr), Schlafkrankheit (Ger), African lethargy, [51] and Congo trypanosomiasis. [51] [52]


The genome of the parasite has been sequenced and several proteins have been identified as potential targets for drug treatment. Analysis of the genome also revealed the reason why generating a vaccine for this disease has been so difficult. T. brucei has over 800 genes that make proteins the parasite "mixes and matches" to evade immune system detection. [53]

Using a genetically modified form of a bacterium that occurs naturally in the gut of the vectors is being studied as a method of controlling the disease. [54]

Recent findings indicate that the parasite is unable to survive in the bloodstream without its flagellum. This insight gives researchers a new angle with which to attack the parasite. [55]

Trypanosomiasis vaccines are undergoing research.

Additionally, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative has contributed to the African sleeping sickness research by developing a compound called fexinidazole. This project was originally started in April 2007 and enrolled 749 people in the DRC and Central African Republic. The results showed efficacy and safety in both stages of the disease, both in adults and children ≥ 6 years old and weighing ≥ 20 kg. [56] The European Medicines Agency approved it for first and second stage disease outside of Europe in November 2018. [57] The treatment was approved in the DRC in December 2018. [58]


For current funding statistics, human African trypanosomiasis is grouped with kinetoplastid infections. Kinetoplastids refer to a group of flagellate protozoa. [59] Kinetoplastid infections include African sleeping sickness, Chagas' disease, and Leishmaniasis. All together, these three diseases accounted for 4.4 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs) and an additional 70,075 recorded deaths yearly. [59] For kinetoplastid infections, the total global research and development funding was approximately $136.3 million in 2012. Each of the three diseases, African sleeping sickness, Chagas' disease, and Leishmaniasis each received approximately a third of the funding, which was about $36.8 million US dollars, $38.7 million US dollars, and $31.7 million US dollars, respectively. [59]

For sleeping sickness, funding was split into basic research, drug discovery, vaccines, and diagnostics. The greatest amount of funding was directed towards basic research of the disease; approximately $21.6 million US dollars was directed towards that effort. As for therapeutic development, approximately $10.9 million was invested. [59]

The top funder for kinetoplastid infection research and development are public sources. About 62% of the funding comes from high-income countries while 9% comes from low- and middle-income countries. High-income countries' public funding is the largest contributor to the neglected disease research effort. However, in recent years, funding from high-income countries has been steadily decreasing; in 2007, high-income countries provided 67.5% of the total funding whereas, in 2012, high-income countries public funds only provided 60% of the total funding for kinetoplastid infections. This downwards trend leaves a gap for other funders, such as philanthropic foundations and private pharmaceutical companies to fill. [59]

Much of the progress that has been made in African sleeping sickness and neglected disease research as a whole is a result of the other non-public funders. One of these major sources of funding has come from foundations, which have increasingly become more committed to neglected disease drug discovery in the 21st century. In 2012, philanthropic sources provided 15.9% of the total funding. [59] The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a leader in providing funding for neglected disease drug development. They have provided $444.1 million US dollars towards neglected disease research in 2012. To date, they have donated over $1.02 billion US dollars towards the neglected disease discovery efforts. [60]

For kinetoplastid infections specifically, they have donated an average of $28.15 million US dollars annually between the years 2007 to 2011. [59] They have labeled human African trypanosomiasis a high-opportunity target meaning it is a disease that presents the greatest opportunity for control, elimination, and eradication, through the development of new drugs, vaccines, public-health programs, and diagnostics. They are the second-highest funding source for neglected diseases, immediately behind the US National Institutes of Health. [59] At a time where public funding is decreasing and government grants for scientific research are harder to obtain, the philanthropic world has stepped in to push the research forward.[ citation needed ]

Another important component of increased interest and funding has come from industry. In 2012, they contributed 13.1% total to the kinetoplastid research and development effort, and have additionally played an important role by contributing to public-private partnerships (PPP) as well as product-development partnerships (PDP). [59] A public-private partnership is an arrangement between one or more public entities and one or more private entities that exists to achieve a specific health outcome or to produce a health product. The partnership can exist in numerous ways; they may share and exchange funds, property, equipment, human resources, and intellectual property. These public-private partnerships and product-development partnerships have been established to address challenges in pharmaceutical industry, especially related to neglected disease research. These partnerships can help increase the scale of the effort towards therapeutic development by using different knowledge, skills, and expertise from different sources. These types of partnerships have been shown to be more effective than industry or public groups working independently. [61]

Other animals and reservoir

Trypanosoma of both the rhodesiense and gambiense types can affect other animals such as cattle and wild animals. [1] African trypanosomiasis has generally been considered an anthroponotic disease and thus its control program was mainly focused on stopping the transmission by treating human cases and eliminating the vector. However, animal reservoirs were reported to possibly play an important role in the endemic nature of African trypanosomiasis, and for its resurgence in the historic foci of West and Central Africa. [62] [63]

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trypanosomatida</span> Order of flagellate protists in the kinetoplastid excavates

Trypanosomatida is a group of kinetoplastid excavates distinguished by having only a single flagellum. The name is derived from the Greek trypano (borer) and soma (body) because of the corkscrew-like motion of some trypanosomatid species. All members are exclusively parasitic, found primarily in insects. A few genera have life-cycles involving a secondary host, which may be a vertebrate, invertebrate or plant. These include several species that cause major diseases in humans. Some trypanosomatida are intracellular parasites, with the important exception of Trypanosoma brucei.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tsetse fly</span> Genus of disease-spreading insects

Tsetse, are large, biting flies that inhabit much of tropical Africa. Tsetse flies include all the species in the genus Glossina, which are placed in their own family, Glossinidae. The tsetse is an obligate parasite, which lives by feeding on the blood of vertebrate animals. Tsetse has been extensively studied, because of their role in transmitting disease. They have a prominent economic impact in sub-Saharan Africa, as the biological vectors of trypanosomes, causing human and animal trypanosomiasis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trypanosomiasis</span> Medical condition

Trypanosomiasis or trypanosomosis is the name of several diseases in vertebrates caused by parasitic protozoan trypanosomes of the genus Trypanosoma. In humans this includes African trypanosomiasis and Chagas disease. A number of other diseases occur in other animals.

<i>Trypanosoma</i> Genus of parasitic flagellate protist in the Kinetoplastea class

Trypanosoma is a genus of kinetoplastids, a monophyletic group of unicellular parasitic flagellate protozoa. Trypanosoma is part of the phylum Sarcomastigophora. The name is derived from the Greek trypano- (borer) and soma (body) because of their corkscrew-like motion. Most trypanosomes are heteroxenous and most are transmitted via a vector. The majority of species are transmitted by blood-feeding invertebrates, but there are different mechanisms among the varying species. Some, such as Trypanosoma equiperdum, are spread by direct contact. In an invertebrate host they are generally found in the intestine, but normally occupy the bloodstream or an intracellular environment in the vertebrate host.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Melarsoprol</span>

Melarsoprol is an arsenic-containing medication used for the treatment of sleeping sickness. It is specifically used for second-stage disease caused by Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense when the central nervous system is involved. For Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, eflornithine or fexinidazole is usually preferred. It is effective in about 95% of people. It is given by injection into a vein.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eflornithine</span>

Eflornithine, sold under the brand name Vaniqa among others, is a medication used to treat African trypanosomiasis and excessive hair growth on the face in women. Specifically it is used for the 2nd stage of sleeping sickness caused by T. b. gambiense and may be used with nifurtimox. It is taken intravenously or topically. It has also been given orally on at least some rare occasions for the treatment of African trypanosomiasis.

<i>Trypanosoma brucei</i> Species of protozoan parasite

Trypanosoma brucei is a species of parasitic kinetoplastid belonging to the genus Trypanosoma that is present in sub-Saharan Africa. Unlike other protozoan parasites that normally infect blood and tissue cells, it is exclusively extracellular and inhabits the blood plasma and body fluids. It causes deadly vector-borne diseases: African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness in humans, and animal trypanosomiasis or nagana in cattle and horses. It is a species complex grouped into three subspecies: T. b. brucei, T. b. gambiense and T. b. rhodesiense. The first is a parasite of non-human mammals and causes nagana, while the latter two are zoonotic infecting both humans and animals and cause African trpanosomiasis.

<i>Trypanosoma evansi</i> Species of protist

Trypanosoma evansi is a parasitic species of excavate trypanosome in the genus Trypanosoma that causes one form of surra in animals. Discovered by Griffith Evans in 1880 at Dera Ismail Khan, it is the first known trypanosome that causes infection. It is a common parasite in India and Iran and causes acute disease in camels and horses, and chronic disease in cattle and buffalo. In Pakistan, it has been found to be the most prevalent trypanosome species in donkeys. It is now established to infect other mammals, including humans.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David Bruce (microbiologist)</span> Scottish pathologist (1855–1931)

Major-General Sir David Bruce was a Scottish pathologist and microbiologist who made some of the key contributions in tropical medicine. In 1887, he discovered a bacterium, now called Brucella, that caused what was known as Malta fever. In 1894, he discovered a protozoan parasite, named Trypanosoma brucei, as the causative pathogen of nagana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Animal trypanosomiasis</span> Parasitic disease of vertebrates

Animal trypanosomiasis, also known as nagana and nagana pest, or sleeping sickness, is a disease of vertebrates. The disease is caused by trypanosomes of several species in the genus Trypanosoma such as Trypanosoma brucei. Trypanosoma vivax causes nagana mainly in West Africa, although it has spread to South America. The trypanosomes infect the blood of the vertebrate host, causing fever, weakness, and lethargy, which lead to weight loss and anemia; in some animals the disease is fatal unless treated. The trypanosomes are transmitted by tsetse flies.

Winterbottom's sign is a swelling of lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) along the posterior cervical lymph node chain, associated with the early phase of African trypanosomiasis, a disease caused by the parasites Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense and Trypanosoma brucei gambiense. It may be suggestive of cerebral infection. Winterbottom reported about the slave traders who, apparently aware of the ominous sign of swollen cervical lymph glands, used to palpate the necks of the slaves before buying them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nifurtimox</span> Anti-parasitic medical drug

Nifurtimox, sold under the brand name Lampit, is a medication used to treat Chagas disease and sleeping sickness. For sleeping sickness it is used together with eflornithine in nifurtimox-eflornithine combination treatment. In Chagas disease it is a second-line option to benznidazole. It is given by mouth.

Wendy Gibson is Professor of Protozoology at University of Bristol, specialising in trypanosomes and molecular parasitology.

Fexinidazole is a medication used to treat African trypanosomiasis caused by Trypanosoma brucei gambiense. It is effective against both first and second stage disease. Some evidence also supports its use in Chagas disease. It is taken by mouth.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louise Pearce</span> American pathologist (1885–1959)

Louise Pearce was an American pathologist at the Rockefeller Institute who helped develop a treatment for African sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis). Sleeping sickness was a fatal epidemic which had devastated areas of Africa, killing two-thirds of the population of the Uganda protectorate between 1900 and 1906 alone. With chemists Walter Abraham Jacobs and Michael Heidelberger and pathologist Wade Hampton Brown, Pearce worked to develop and test arsenic-based drugs for its treatment. In 1920, Louise Pearce traveled to the Belgian Congo where she designed and carried out a drug testing protocol for human trials to establish tryparsamide's safety, effectiveness, and optimum dosage. Tryparsamide proved successful in combating the fatal epidemic, curing 80% of cases.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Acoziborole</span> Antiprotozoal drug to treat sleeping sickness

Acoziborole (SCYX-7158) is an antiprotozoal drug invented by Anacor Pharmaceuticals in 2009, and now under development by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative for the treatment of African trypanosomiasis.

Nifurtimox/eflornithine is a combination of two antiparasitic drugs, nifurtimox and eflornithine, used in the treatment of African trypanosomiasis. It is included in the World Health Organization's Model List of Essential Medicines.

Victor Kande Betu Kumeso is a Congolese physician who is an expert in African trypanosomiasis. He works at the Programme National de Lutte contre la Trypanosomiase Humaine Africaine at the University of Kinshasa.

The Sleeping Sickness Commission was a medical project established by the British Royal Society to investigate the outbreak of African sleeping sickness or African trypanosomiasis in Africa at the turn of the 20th century. The outbreak of the disease started in 1900 in Uganda, which was at the time a protectorate of the British Empire. The initial team in 1902 consisted of Aldo Castellani and George Carmichael Low, both from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Cuthbert Christy, a medical officer on duty in Bombay, India. From 1903, David Bruce of the Royal Army Medical Corps and David Nunes Nabarro of the University College Hospital took over the leadership. The commission established that species of blood protozoan called Trypanosoma brucei, named after Bruce, was the causative parasite of sleeping sickness.

Keith Roland Matthews,, , is a British cell biologist and parasitologist, currently Professor of Parasite Biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on African trypanosomes, which cause human sleeping sickness and the equivalent cattle disease nagana.


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