Western medicine is ill-equipped to handle parasites: Standard treatments are ineffective and often lethal

A study published in the journal Nature Communications revealed that sleeping sickness, clinically known as African trypanosomiasis, not only affects the circadian rhythm but may also impact a wide range of important body functions. According to the experts, the disease can be transmitted through the bite of the tsetse fly. The scientists added that that condition now affects millions of people in sub-Saharan African countries including Chad, Angola, Congo and Malawi as well as Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Researchers at the O’Donnell Brain Institute found that symptoms of sleeping sickness, such as inverted sleeping cycles, fever, muscle weakness and itching, may manifest soon after the onset of the infection. According to the experts, the symptoms may even show before parasites gather in large numbers in the brain. The scientists also observed that the biological clock of infected hosts run faster once the parasites reach the blood stream, which then leads to inverted sleeping cycles, hormonal conditions and body temperature abnormalities.

“Although many studies on this subject have tried to understand the causes of sleeping sickness, our multidisciplinary effort between a circadian rhythm and a parasitology laboratory led us to the understanding that the circadian clock is at the core of the symptoms observed. It is important to continue this research to better understand both sleeping sickness and other difficult-to-treat parasitic diseases that impact millions across the globe,” first author Dr. Filipa Rijo-Ferreira said in the News Wise article.

However, the researchers noted that the mechanism behind the altered circadian rhythm remains unclear. (Related: Kazakhstan town plagued by mysterious illness that causes residents to fall unconscious for days.)

“Our work shows that the underlying mechanism of altered sleep in this disease is caused by a circadian disorder. How the clocks are changing remains a mystery. We need to study further whether the host is producing a molecule in response to the infection, or if there is a secretion from the parasite. Finding the causative agent could aid in the development of drugs to treat the disease and find molecules that modulate the clock for treatment other circadian disorders,” researcher Dr. Joseph S. Takahashi reported online.

WHO: Sleeping sickness drugs often entail unwanted side-effects

Despite the potentially life-threatening effects of the disease, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that there are no currently available drugs that may help stave off the condition. Likewise, a media center report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that some of the most commonly used drugs to manage the disease often entail adverse side effects. Among these drugs include:

  • Pentamidine – According to the WHO report, pentamidine is commonly used as a first line treatment for sleeping sickness. However, the health agency confirmed that using the drug may result in non-negligible effects.
  • Suramin – The WHO report revealed that this medication may lead to unwanted side-effects such as urinary tract conditions and allergic reactions.
  • Melarsoprol – The health agency noted that the medication was derived from arsenic and contains many side-effects including reactive encephalopathy. The disease, also called encephalopathic syndrome, was found to have a fatality rate of up to 10 percent.
  • Eflornithine – The WHO stated that while eflornithine is less toxic than melarsoprol, it remains complex and difficult to apply.
  • Nifurtimox – According to the health agency, this drug was neither studied nor tested for other forms of sleeping sickness.

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