African Sleeping Sickness (African Trypanosomiasis): Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


African Sleeping Sickness, also known as African Trypanosomiasis, is a parasitic infection caused by the protozoan parasites Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense. This disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected tsetse flies, found in sub-Saharan Africa. African Sleeping Sickness can be a severe and life-threatening condition if left untreated. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of African Sleeping Sickness, highlighting the significance of early detection and management of this tropical disease.


African Sleeping Sickness is prevalent in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, where tsetse flies thrive. The parasites enter the human bloodstream through the fly's bite and multiply, leading to the disease's progression. There are two forms of African Sleeping Sickness:

  • T.b. gambiense: This form is responsible for over 98% of reported cases and causes a chronic infection with a slow progression.
  • T.b. rhodesiense: This form is responsible for the remaining cases and causes a more acute and rapidly progressing infection.


The symptoms of African Sleeping Sickness can be vague and nonspecific, making diagnosis challenging. In the early stage, symptoms may include:

  • Fever, headache, and joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Skin rash
  • Weakness and fatigue

If the infection progresses to the second stage, more severe symptoms may develop, including:

  • Neurological symptoms, such as confusion, personality changes, and poor coordination
  • Sleep disturbances, such as daytime sleepiness and nighttime insomnia
  • Difficulty walking and talking
  • Seizures


Diagnosing African Sleeping Sickness requires specialized tests, particularly in areas where the disease is endemic. Diagnostic methods include:

  • Blood tests: Blood samples are examined under a microscope to identify the presence of Trypanosoma parasites.
  • Lumbar puncture: A sample of cerebrospinal fluid is obtained through a lumbar puncture to determine if the parasites have invaded the central nervous system.


Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent the disease's progression and complications. Treatment options depend on the stage and form of the infection:

  • First stage: For T.b. gambiense, the drugs pentamidine or suramin are commonly used. For T.b. rhodesiense, the drug suramin or melarsoprol may be prescribed.
  • Second stage: The drug eflornithine (or nifurtimox in combination with eflornithine) is used to treat late-stage African Sleeping Sickness, particularly when the parasites have invaded the central nervous system.


Preventing African Sleeping Sickness involves controlling tsetse flies and avoiding bites. Measures to reduce the risk of infection include wearing protective clothing, using insect repellents, and avoiding outdoor activities in tsetse fly-infested areas during peak biting times.


African Sleeping Sickness is a serious tropical disease transmitted by tsetse flies in sub-Saharan Africa. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent the disease's progression and severe complications. If you have traveled to or reside in regions where African Sleeping Sickness is endemic and experience symptoms consistent with the infection, seek immediate medical attention for evaluation and management.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis and treatment options specific to your condition.