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      Sleeping sickness

      Latest update: - Authors: Mieke Croughs, Ula Maniewski

      Sleeping sickness or African trypanosomiasis is caused by a parasite that is transmitted by the Tsetse fly. This fly lives in overgrown or forested areas, bites during the day and is attracted to bright and dark colours. The fly can bite through thin fabric. The bite is always painful.

      There is no risk in cities, but tourists can in rare cases contract the infection when visiting a game reserve.

      There are two types of African sleeping sickness:

      • The West African form (T. gambiense) causes episodes of fever, malaise, swollen glands in the neck several weeks to months after the bite. Neurological problems  including disturbed sleep patterns, changes in character, extreme fatigue and apathy occur at a later stage . This phase can persist for months and will eventually result in death if left untreated.
      • In the East African form  (T. rhodesiense), the disease usually progresses more quickly over a period of a few weeks. This is often accompanied by a high fever and an ulcer at the site where the person was bitten.

      Risk areas

      The disease occurs only in Sub-Saharan Africa.

      The East African sleeping sickness occurs in East Africa, the West African sleeping sickness occurs primarily in Central Africa and rarely in West Africa.

      Tourists are mainly at risk in the game reserves of Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. 


      Protect yourself against bites from tsetse flies.


      Cover your entire body as much as possible with clothing in neutral colours made of material that is not too thin. Also wear a hat. Avoid bright or dark colours.

      Insect-repellent products and insecticide

      Apply an insect-repellent product regularly to all areas of the skin that are not covered end consider wearing clothing impregnated with insecticide when visiting game reserves. This has not been proven particularly effective against tsetse flies, but protects you against other insect bites.

      No vaccine

      There is no vaccine or preventative medication available. 

      In case of symptoms

      Have you been bitten by a Tsetse fly?

      Most Tsetse flies are not infected with trypanosomes. You do not need to take any action as long as you do not have symptoms.

      Do you have symptoms that could be caused by sleeping sickness?

      Seek medical advice if you suffer any symptoms. You should seek urgent medical advice if you develop a fever. 

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