Scientists reveal method to control sleeping sickness propagation

The use of a cheap drug could be the key to control the disease in African countries


The use of the drug in cattle must be introduced in Kenya, where 37 from the 48 local counties, home to about 11 million people, are infested with the tsetse fly

The sleeping sickness causative agent, Trypanosoma brucei, may be each time closer to becoming rare in Sub-Saharan Africa. A low-cost drug, tested in about 500 thousand bovines, in Uganda, was able to successfully kill the parasite and reduce by 90% the cases of the disease in humans.

People living in rural areas are the most likely to develop the disease, since bovines act as hosts for Trypanosoma brucei. The infection is often transmitted from cattle to humans by the tsetse fly.

To treat the sleeping sickness in animals, scientists from Edinburgh University, in the United Kingdom, injected each animal with a single dose of the drug. They also pulverized cattle farms with insecticides to avoid re-infection.

The use of the drug in bovines must be introduced in Kenya, where 37 from the 48 local counties – a contingent of 11 million people – are infested with tsetse flies. According to the scientists, about 2.7 million cows must be treated.

The finding is another great step towards controlling the disease in Africa. Since 2009, the number of new cases have remained below 10 thousand annual cases, an unprecedented result for the last 50 years. Until 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) aims to discard the disease as a public health issue.

According to the scientists involved in the research, treating the infection in bovines represents a double-impact action, ensuring healthier people and animals. The disease treatment in humans is difficult and may cause agonizing deaths, through the course of six months to six years, according to the parasite type – subspecies T. brucei gambiense and T. brucei rhodesiense.

When the flies bite a person, the parasites enter the bloodstream and multiply. Initially, the victim has headaches, fever and skin rashes. However, with time, the parasite can damage the nervous system, causing sleep disorders, confusion and lead to coma or even death.

The work developed with bovines in Africa is part of a campaign against sleeping sickness (Stamp Out Sleeping Sickness – SOS), undertaken by the university since 2006, in partnership with institutions as Makerere University and Ugandan government. According to the campaigns representatives, about USD 400 million have been saved in human health costs since the beginning of the activities, besides this, the annual cattle productivity has raised by USD 25 in the African nations poor communities.…