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Sleeping sickness facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
"Sleeping sickness" is also another name for Narcolepsy.
Trypanosoma sp. PHIL 613 lores
Trypanosomes in a blood smear

Sleeping sickness, or African trypanosomiasis, is an infectious disease. It is caused by parasites from the species Trypanosoma brucei.

People get African trypanosomiasis from the tsetse fly. Because of this, it is most common in certain areas of Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, where the tsetse fly lives. Researchers say that about 70 million people, in 36 countries, are at a high risk for getting sleeping sickness. As of 2010, sleeping sickness had caused around 9,000 deaths per year (compared to 34,000 in 1990).

In 2013, about 30,000 people had African trypanosomiasis. Also, about 7,000 more people were getting the disease every year. More than 80% of these people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Medications can treat African trypanosomiasis. The treatment is usually done in a hospital, because the drugs have many side effects. For sleeping sickness that was not treated early, the medications used for treatment are based on arsenic, a poison. These medications are dangerous, and about 5% of people die from taking them.

The best way to protect against African trypanosomiasis is to protect against insect bites.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of African trypanosomiasis happen in two stages.

The hemolyphatic phase

Common symptoms in this stage include:

If African trypanosomiasis is not treated at this point, the parasite will also get into the circulatory system and defeat the body's natural defenses. If this happens, the person can have:

The neurological phase

This phase begins when the parasite invades the central nervous system by passing through the blood–brain barrier.

In this stage, one of the most common symptoms is trouble sleeping. This is where the name "sleeping sickness" comes from. People in this stage often cannot sleep normally, and may be up all night and then sleep during the day..

Other symptoms in this stage can include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Tremor
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weakness or paralysis of an arm or leg
  • Movements that the person cannot control, like a person with Parkinson syndrome
  • Psychosis
  • Feeling easily annoyed or being aggressive

Without treatment, a person with African sleeping sickness will go into a coma; (thus the name) all their important organs will stop working; and they will die.Damage caused in the neurological phase cannot be fixed.

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