Why you Should Care about Trypanosomes!

The bite of the tsetse fly can cause African Sleeping Sickness through transmission of the parasite called trypanosome. It is currently estimated that there are about 50,000 to 70,000 cases of this disease in Africa. Two unique types of Trypanosoma brucei cause two different types of African Sleeping Sickness isolated in two distinct regions of the continent. One is characterized by a chronic infection and is found in western and central African countries. The other, which has more acute symptoms such as a more rapid development of central nervous system disease, is found in eastern and southern African countries.

African Sleeping Sickness is also called “human African trypanosomiasis” or HAT and it is ultimately fatal if left untreated. Melarsoprol is a drug used in cases of HAT where the central nervous system is under attack. Melarsoprol, created by, Dr. Ernst Friedheim, a Swiss physician and chemist, poses a serious health threat as it contains a toxic trivalent arsenical derivative. Further research on African Sleeping Sickness and trypanosomes is vital to developing safer, more effective drugs.

Think of how many mosquito bites you have received in your life time from just a short walk outside on a summer evening. Even in the age of mosquito born bird flu, it is very scary to think that trypanosoma brucei is transmitted to humans through the tsetse fly vector. A substantial amount of research is being conducted to more fully understand this eukaryotic parasite. Unfortunately, HAT is another one to add to the list of diseases on the African continent that are hard to control. I am hopeful that some day research will eliminate trypanosoma brucei as a threat to living creatures.

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