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article imageTsetse fly, sleeping sickness and the bacterial mystery

By Tim Sandle     Jun 24, 2015 in Science
Scientists are edging closer to wiping out sleeping sickness worldwide. However, to do so a greater understating of the relationship between the Tsetse fly and the disease causing parasite is required.
The reduction in cases of "sleeping sickness" has been a global success story. Back in 1995 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that some 60 million people were at risk and around 30,000 were infected, mostly in Africa. By 2010 the cases dropped to below 8,000. Most cases are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
For the final push, scientists are looking how the infectious parasite interacts with the tsetse fly (Glossina species) that spreads the disease. The reason for understanding this relationship more fully is because there is no drug available to combat the disease. The main focus is on stopping the disease from spreading.
Sleeping sickness (or African trypanosomiasis) is a parasitic disease of people and animals (usually carried by the tsetse fly in rural areas). The disease is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma brucei.
Once someone is infected, early symptoms include fevers, headaches, itchiness, and joint pains. Several weeks later confusion, poor coordination, numbness and trouble sleeping develop. Various drugs can be administered for treatment, although no drug is specific for the parasite. The disease can result in death.
To help understand transmission factors more fully, Dr. Rita Rio, associate professor of Biology at West Virginia University, has been granted $1.1 million by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for research.
One thing that Dr. Rio is keen to understand is why some tsetse flies carry the disease and others do not. The theory is that the gut bacteria of the flies affect whether the parasite takes up residence in the blood of a fly. Understanding this could help tackle the spread of the disease.
More about tsetse fly, Parasite, Sleeping sickness, Bacteria
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