Dr. Yahaya Nauzo, a physician in Niger State, has alerted that the Human African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness can be transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected person.
He also stated that there could be a mother-to-child transmission of the infection during pregnancy through the placenta, adding that other methods of transmission may include blood transfusion, organ transplant and through mechanical vectors.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, Nauzo stated that sleeping sickness poses a great risk to Nigeria and the world in terms of eradication and economic loss.
According to him “Trypanosoma brucei parasite can be transmitted vertically from mother to child when the parasite invades the placenta. It ultimately results in meningoencephalitis, coma and death.
“Mechanical transmission may also occur via other blood-sucking insects like mosquitoes, accidental inoculation from needle stick injuries in health care settings, or via sexual transmission.
“It is a very severe and dangerous disease that can pose a health risk as it ultimately results in meningoencephalitis, coma, and death. It also poses social and economic devastation to people when not kept in check,” warns Dr. Nauzo.
According to the World Health Organisation, the Human African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, is a vector-borne parasitic disease caused by infection with protozoan parasites belonging to the Genus Trypanosoma.
The WHO noted that the disease is usually introduced into the human body through a bite from Tsetse fly.
“They are transmitted to humans by Tsetse fly (Glossina genus) bites which have acquired their infection from human beings or from animals harbouring human pathogenic parasites.
“There are two forms of sleeping sickness. The first, due to Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, is found in 24 countries in west and central Africa and accounts for more than 98 per cent of cases. The second form, due to Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, is found in 13 countries in eastern and southern Africa and represents the rest of the cases.
“WHO and partners are targeting the elimination as a public health problem of the gambiense form of the disease from all endemic countries by 2030.
“Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana have started the validation process with the support of WHO.
“Wiping out the gambiense form of sleeping sickness will require maintaining the commitment of endemic countries and of donors as well as integrating control and surveillance activities into the regular health systems.
“These efforts need to be supported by improved tools, innovative disease control approaches and effective coordination of efforts,” the UN agency noted.
Based on reports, in 1995, about 25, 000 cases of sleeping sickness were detected, 300,000 cases estimated to have gone undetected, while 60 million people were estimated to be at risk of the infection.
However, in 2019, there was a sharp decline in infection as fewer than 1,000 cases were found.
On Thursday, August 27, Togo became the first African country to eliminate sleeping sickness as a public health problem after not reporting any cases in 10 years.
Dr. Nauzo noted that the eradication of sleeping sickness is feasible, adding “To prevent a possible resurgence, surveillance needs to be sustained and the necessary tools for detection and treatment of cases need to be made available at the points of care in the endemic areas within the country.
“One case was reported in 2016 of a woman who was suspected to have contracted African sleeping sickness near Warri, Delta State.
“Prior to that, there were no reported cases in Nigeria since 2012 when we had two cases,” the physician adds.
On those prone to the disease, he stated that people living along rivers and wetlands as well as farmers living in rural areas are most susceptible.
Highlighting the symptoms, he says it varied from headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue, and confusion depending on the stage, to death when not diagnosed and treated.
The physician noted that Nigeria has been following the WHO elimination plan to control and eventually eradicate the disease.
“The Plan includes public health messages and distribution of mosquito nets to prevent insect bites.
“There is also an active and passive public health surveillance system in place and reporting in conjunction with WHO when HAT is suspected.
“People are also advised to wear long sleeves and thick protective clothes to avoid bites.”
He maintains that active surveillance and public health campaign messages are necessary to ensure Nigeria supports the WHO eradication target of 2030.
“Sleeping sickness threatens millions of people in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria. Many of those affected live in remote rural areas with limited access to adequate health services.
“This complicates surveillance and therefore the diagnosis and treatment of cases, thus, facilitating transmission,” he said.