Global Health Observatory (GHO)

Human African trypanosomiasis

Situation and trends

Human African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, is caused by infection with protozoan parasites belonging to the genus Trypanosoma. The disease is vector-borne; parasites enter the body through the bites of tsetse flies (Glossina spp). Without prompt diagnosis and treatment, the disease is usually fatal: the parasites multiply in the body, cross the blood–brain barrier and invade the central nervous system. Sleeping sickness is found in remote sub-Saharan areas where health systems are often weak.

T. b. gambiense is endemic in 24 countries of west and central Africa and causes more than 98% of reported cases of sleeping sickness. T. b. rhodesiense is endemic in 13 countries of eastern and southern Africa, representing less than 2% of reported cases. Between 1999 and 2012, the reported number of new cases of the chronic form of human African trypanosomiasis (T. b. gambiense) fell by 76%, from 27 862 to 7106. During the same period, the number of newly reported cases of the acute form of human African trypanosomiasis (T.b. rhodesiense) fell by 83% from 619 to 110.


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