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A day in the life of a patient suffering from Human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness)

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It is not the first time I am suffering from a parasitic infection. During childhood, I had contracted infections due to tapeworms, roundworms, etc. As far as I can remember, these infections did not cause much of a problem except for the abdominal discomfort, and occasional loose motions. This time, I am suffering from a more severe form of a parasitic infection, Human African Trypanosomiasis, a threat which caused me sleeping sickness. You might think why I am calling it a dangerous infection. Let me explain you the changes this infection has caused in my life and which are the symptoms of this malady.

Waking up in the morning

Every day, I wake up feeling weak and unrefreshed. I suppose that is why Human African Trypanosomiasis is also called sleeping sickness. The doctor told me this infection is caused due to a parasite, Trypanosoma Brucei Gambiense. It is transmitted from one person to another by Tsetse fly bites that may have acquired the infection from an infected human being or animal harboring the pathogenic parasites. I am suffering from several disturbing symptoms due to this infection. I suffer from severe headache and joint pains in the morning due to which taking a few steps to take a bath or brush my teeth have become troublesome for me.

Starting the day

My family members have noticed a change in my behavior since this infection struck me. I have become a bit irritable and impatient. Luckily, the doctor explained to me and my family members that these changes in the behavior could be due to the infection itself. Since then, they are trying to be patient with me and help me with my morning chores.

However, it does hurt me, at times, when I think of the ways I have been behaving with them. This infection has also affected my nervous system, and digestion. I feel confused and also suffer from poor coordination and sensory disturbances. So, I have to take care while walking to avoid losing balance and falling or tripping.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

The doctor has advised me to eat fresh fruits, and vegetables. I avoid eating hard-to-digest foods like fries and pizzas. I get indigestion and pain in my abdomen after eating these fatty foods. The doctor told me I need to up my nutritional status by ensuring my body is supplied with vitamins and mineral; that’s the reason for the switch to fruits and vegetables.

Going to work and taking medications

The symptoms of sleeping sickness like sleep disturbances, severe weakness, joint pains, and lack of coordination have forced me to stay at home. I do not have the confidence to venture out alone. The doctor told me I might need 3 or 4 months more to be able to join my office. Till then, I need to focus on taking proper rest and eating a healthy bite.

I am using several medications to control this infection. The doctor has prescribed me Pentamidine along with a few vitamin supplements. Pentamidine is a mild antimicrobial medication and does not cause any severe side effects. He might have to change the medicine if the response is not favorable.

Prevention of complications

Sleeping sickness is caused due to the bite by an infected Tsetse fly. I suppose this can be prevented by taking precautions to avoid the insect bites. The doctors advised me and my family to use insect repellants, wear long-sleeved clothing, avoid tsetse-dense areas, and implement bush clearance methods to reduce the risk of this infections.

My history of repeated parasitic infections during childhood was an indication of my unhygienic habits. Though sleeping sickness does not spread through the consumption of contaminated food or drinks, the doctor has advised me to follow proper hygienic precautions to avoid other bacterial and parasitic infection.

What are the daily limitations and what are the fears?

I have developed a few complications due to sleeping sickness. There is an intense weakness that prevents me from working actively to perform my daily tasks. My muscles have also become weak. I have lost considerable weight and become anemic. These complications have worsened my condition.

I fear if this infection is not controlled properly, it may lead to more severe complications like aspiration pneumonia, and even seizures. In worse cases, I can go into stupor or coma. I hope my symptoms respond well to Pentamidine so that I can recover faster without developing any serious complications.

How does the future look like?

Though the doctor assured me that the medications would help me control the symptoms, I fear for the worst. I have been told this disease may lead to fatal consequences! The parasites can also invade my nervous system and affect my brain. If this occurs, I may develop convulsions or even slip into coma. The future is bleak, very bleak. Its full of fears!

What are the risk factors?

The greatest risk factor for sleeping sickness is the bite by an infected Tsetse fly. However, the disease may also spread from an infected mother to the child. I am not sure how did I contract this infection as I had not visited any Tsetse dense area. The doctor told me the possible reason could be a prick with a contaminated needle. I suppose I might have developed this infection when I visited a hospital for routine blood tests. It is sad to think how some hospitals fail to take the proper aseptic precautions due to which the patients have to suffer.

The causes and evolution of Sleeping Sickness

Sleeping sickness is a chronic infection caused by parasyte, which can affect a person for several months to even years without any signs or symptoms. The symptoms become evident only when the infection has caused significant damage to the vital organs.

In some cases, the first signs and symptoms are observed a few weeks after the parasites have gained entry into the body. In such cases, the disease may develop rapidly and invade the nervous system. The disease can progress at a varying speed and cause serious complications like coma and even death!

What are the psychological effects when you have this disease?

I am not sure how sleeping sickness will progress and what course it will take in the coming months. I might respond well to the treatment and start feeling better. The infection may even become worse and cause complications. These thoughts have been haunting me. I can only hope I come out of this disease without any serious consequences.

Topics: sleeping sickness

Dr. Jyothi Shenoy

Written by Dr. Jyothi Shenoy

Dr. Jyothi Shenoy is a doctor having a clinical experience of more than 15 years. She has an expertise in treating acute and chronic diseases like obesity, IBS, asthma, arthritis, Autism, ADHD, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, allergies, cancer, infections, and skin diseases. She believes in treating the patients in a holistic manner. She aims at educating the patients about the illness and providing tips related to their lifestyle and diet to ensure a long-term relief from the disease and preventing its recurrence.