Sleeping-sickness epidemic hits DRC

An outbreak of trypanosomiasis, the “sleeping sickness” transmitted to humans by the bite of a tsetse fly, has reached epidemic proportions in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Medinfo said on Monday that according to statistics released by health authorities, about 1 650 people have been infected with the disease.

The number of cases has risen dramatically over the last two weeks of August, with several deaths occurring in Bena Kalambayi in the East Kasai province.

According to medical sources, 16 people have been hospitalised and another 24 are receiving home health care because of the limited hospital facilities. Health-care kits have been directed to the respective health centres.

Medinfo said the provincial health inspection office has responded by launching a mission to support the local treatment centre for sleeping sickness, including the dispatch of additional mobile facilities to the area.

A combined mission comprising humanitarian groups will reach Bena Kalambayi within the next few days.

In the interim, health authorities have urged the population of Bena Kalambayi to visit the mobile facilities at the first sign of symptoms. Free treatment is available at these centres.

The outbreak is the second of its kind in the DRC this year.

“The incidence of trypanosomiasis across Africa is an ongoing cause of concern in medical circles, not only for locals but also for tourists and business travellers to high-risk countries such as Kenya, Zambia, the DRC and Angola,” said Dr Andrew Jamieson, medical director of SAA-Netcare Travel Clinics.

“Although there is no vaccine to prevent transmission of the disease, it can be cured if detected soon after infection.
We therefore recommend that anyone travelling to trypanosomiasis-endemic areas take personal protection against insect bites; and that they seek medical help should any symptoms develop.”—Sapa

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