How to Prevent Sleeping Sickness

Опубликовал Admin
25-12-2020, 14:52
If you're working or exploring in sub-Saharan Africa, it's important to protect yourself from tsetse fly bites. If the flies are infected with a parasite and they bite you, you may develop African trypanosomiasis, which is referred to as sleeping sickness. Although your risk of getting the disease is low, it causes serious symptoms and can even be fatal. This is why it's critical to recognize signs and get immediate medical treatment.

Minimizing Your Risk

  1. Wear medium-weight long-sleeved clothing to protect yourself from bites. If you travel or live in areas where the tsetse fly thrives, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants that are made of medium-weight or thick fabric. This makes it harder for the flies to bite through the material.
    • Choose neutral-colored clothing since tsetse flies are drawn to bright or dark colors.
  2. Travel in closed vehicles when you explore sub-Saharan Africa. Since tsetse flies are drawn to dust from moving cars or animals, don't ride in cars, trucks, or jeeps that have open backs. You should also check inside closed vehicles for tsetse flies before you get in.
  3. Set up mosquito nets around your bed to prevent insect bites. Tsetse flies bite outdoors during the daytime, so mosquito nets aren't proven to protect you from tsetse flies. However, it's still a good idea to put up nets around your bed to protect you against other insects while you sleep.
  4. Use insect repellent to prevent other diseases caused by insects. Although there aren't insect repellents that prevent tsetse flies from spreading sleeping sickness, insect repellent that contains DEET can reduce your risk of getting diseases spread by other insects like mosquitoes. To use insect repellent, spray it on your hands and rub your face, taking care not to get any in your eyes. Then, spray the front and back of your legs, arms, and torso.
    • DEET is the best way to prevent insect bites and comes in different concentrations. A low concentration of 10% is usually effective for about 2 hours, while a concentration around 24% will protect you for about 5 hours. Generally, the effectiveness of the DEET will cap at around 30% concentration, but you can find products that go up to 75% if you're very worried. You'll need to apply the product more often if you swim or sweat a lot.
    • Apply insect repellent while you're outside or in a well-ventilated room so you don't breathe in the spray.
  5. Limit your travel to rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa when possible. Stay away from woodland or savannah areas where tsetse flies thrive. If you do choose to go to wooded areas, try not to travel during daylight when the flies bite.
    • If you do walk around heavily forested areas, avoid walking near bushes, which is where the flies rest during the hottest parts of the day.
  6. Avoid taking medications that claim to prevent sleeping sickness. Unfortunately, there isn't medication or a vaccine that protects you from getting sleeping sickness. Don't take any products that promise to prevent the disease.
    • Although people were given preventative injections of the medication pentamidine in the mid-twentieth century, it's no longer given as a preventative measure. Instead, pentamidine is used as an early-stage treatment for West African sleeping sickness.
    • Keep in mind that there are medications to treat the disease, just not to prevent it.

Recognizing Symptoms

  1. Check your skin for painful red sores. One of the earliest symptoms of a tsetse fly bit is a painful, red, rubbery lesion that is usually about 2 to 5 cm (0.79 to 1.97 in) in diameter. These bites may develop up to a week after you receive your bite. In some cases, the bites can form into ulcers.
    • Your bite should heal on its own in a few weeks.
    • If you see a painful red bite, you'll probably develop more symptoms within 1 to 2 weeks.
  2. Pay attention to early sleeping sickness signs like fever and headache. If you're feeling unwell, don't just brush it off. Some of the earliest symptoms are sweating and fever. Additionally, check your lymph nodes under your jaw, around your neck, in your armpit, and in your groin to see if they're swelling. Your joints and muscles might feel achy and you may feel bad overall. Take this as a sign that you need medical attention.
    • Keep checking your lymph nodes to feel if they're bigger or if more of them are swelling across different areas of your body.
  3. Keep track of changes to your sleep cycle. Sleeping sickness earns its name because the disease changes your biological clock. If you have an advanced form of the disease, you might find that you have random urges to sleep and you're more likely to sleep during the day while staying awake at night.
    • If you do feel the urge to sleep during the day, you'll find that it's uncontrollable.
  4. Ask friends or family to watch you for confusion, motor problems, or trouble speaking. Neurological changes usually happen in the late stages of sleeping sickness, and it will likely be hard to recognize them in yourself. Try not to worry, but you need to see a doctor immediately if you have these symptoms because untreated sleeping sickness is life-threatening. Even if you don't have sleeping sickness, your doctor needs to rule it out if it's a possibility. Tell your friends or family members to watch you for any these developments, which could mean that the disease is attacking your central nervous system:
    • Anxiety
    • Seizures
    • Trouble walking
    • Hallucinations
    • Attention problems
    • Tremors

Getting Treatment

  1. Contact a doctor immediately if you think you might have sleeping sickness. Don't wait to develop severe symptoms before getting medical attention since the disease is easier to treat if it's diagnosed early. A doctor will take your medical history and test your blood to look for parasitic cells.
    • A doctor may biopsy the red swollen sore or do a spinal tap in order to make a diagnosis.
    • Even though there are 2 strains of the disease, the symptoms are the same. They just develop at different paces depending on which type of fly bit you.
  2. Stay in the hospital while you get early-stage medication. Fortunately, the early stage of sleeping sickness is easier to treat, but you will need to stay in the hospital. The medical staff will hook up an IV and give you pentamidine, if you have West African sleeping sickness, or suramin, if you have East African sleeping sickness. You might be given the medication about 3 times a week for 2 weeks.
    • You may be given fexinidazole tablets for early or advanced stage sleeping sickness. If you're prescribed this new treatment, you'll need to eat a meal and take the tablet within 30 minutes. Even though this is an oral medication, you still need to be supervised by medical staff.
    • Most people don't experience too many side effects with pentamidine, but side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, skin tingling, and weakness.
    • Suramin is more likely to cause the same side effects. You might also lose your appetite or feel dizzy.
  3. Get medication to treat advanced stages of sleeping sickness. Although sleeping sickness sounds frightening, you can get treatment in the hospital. You'll be hooked up to an IV, which delivers eflornithine, if you have East African sleeping sickness, or nifurtimox, if you have West African sleeping sickness.
    • Side effects for eflornithine include sore throat, fever, bruising, and weakness. You might experience vomiting, dizziness, and nervousness if you're taking nifurtimox.
    • Melarsoprol is sometimes given intravenously for early-stage East African sleeping sickness, but it can cause severe side effects for West African sleeping sickness.
  4. Get regular follow-up exams for 2 years after your initial treatment. Once you return home, you'll need to follow a doctor's recommendations about regular exams. They may need to do spinal taps (lumbar punctures) every 6 months for 2 years so they can look for parasitic cells and give you medication as needed.
    • Because African sleeping sickness is so rare, you might be referred to an infectious disease specialist to develop a plan of care.
    • Relapses can occur, so it's important to monitor your condition so you can start treatment early if necessary.


  • Remember to cover exposed skin with medium-weight clothing. This makes it harder for infected tsetse flies to bite you and transmit the disease.


  • It's possible to become re-infected with sleeping sickness even after you've recovered from it.
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