African Trypanosomiasis in Kenya

by Wayne Ghesquiere on March 14, 2012

The form of trypanosomiasis seen in eastern and southeasthern Africa (rhodesiense) was recently reported in two European tourists who visited the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. From 2000 to 2010, cases of human African trypoanosomiasis were reported in travelers who traveled to national parks, wildlife reserves, and game parks in Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.Trypanosomiasis is a disease that has been historically found in this region of East Africa.   African trypanosomiasis, also called African sleeping sickness, is caused by a parasite that is transmitted by an infected tsetse fly. The tsetse fly is found only in sub-Saharan Africa. Symptoms include fatigue, high fever, headaches, and muscle aches. If the disease is not treated, it is fatal. On average, the infection is reported in one US traveler per year; it is usually acquired in East African game parks.  How Can Travelers Protect Themselves? No vaccine or drug can prevent African trypanosomiasis. You can prevent the disease by avoiding tsetse flies. Tsetse flies are found in woodland and savannah areas, and they bite during daylight hours. If you are touring or hunting in a game park, you are most likely to be exposed to tsetse flies. Travelers to cities are not at risk. Take the following steps to avoid tsetse fly bites:
  • Wear protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts and pants. The tsetse fly can bite through thin fabrics, so clothing should be made of medium-weight material.
  • Wear neutral-colored clothing. The tsetse fly is attracted to bright colors, very dark colors, metallic fabric, and the color blue.
  • Inspect vehicles for tsetse flies before entering. The flies are attracted to moving vehicles.
  • Avoid bushes. The tsetse fly is less active during the hottest period of the day. It rests in bushes but will bite if disturbed.
  • Use insect repellent. Although insect repellents have not proven effective in preventing tsetse fly bites, they are effective in preventing other insects from biting and causing illness.
If you are bitten by a tsetse fly during your trip (the bite is often painful), watch for symptoms and see your doctor immediately if you get sick. Be sure to mention that you have been traveling in Africa and that you were bitten by a tsetse fly.

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