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Protozoal disease transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly. Two forms, caused by different species of the genus Trypanosoma, occur in separate regions in Africa. The parasite enters the bloodstream and invades the lymph nodes and spleen, which become swollen, soft, and tender. Irregular fever and delayed pain sensation develop. In the Rhodesian form, the patient soon dies of massive toxemia. The Gambian type progresses to brain and spinal cord invasion, causing severe headache, mental and physical fatigue, spastic or flaccid paralysis, chorea, and profound sleepiness, followed over two or three years by emaciation, coma, and death. Some patients develop a tolerance but still carry the trypanosomes. The earlier drug treatment begins, the greater the chance of recovery. Sleeping sickness is still prevalent in parts of Africa despite efforts to control it.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on sleeping sickness, visit Britannica.com.