Rapid Cure Approved for Sleeping Sickness, a Horrific Illness
Parasites transmitted by tsetse flies travel to the brain, causing paranoia, fury and death. Until now, killing them required hospitalization and harsh drugs.
The first treatment for sleeping sickness that relies on pills alone was approved on Friday by Europe’s drug regulatory agency, paving the way for use in Africa, the last bastion of the horrific disease.
With treatment radically simplified, sleeping sickness could become a candidate for elimination, experts said, because there are usually fewer than 2,000 cases in the world each year.
The disease, also called human African trypanosomiasis, is transmitted by tsetse flies. The protozoan parasites, injected as the flies suck blood, burrow into the brain. Before they kill, drive their victims mad in ways that resemble the last stages of rabies.
The personalities of the infected change. They have terrifying hallucinations and fly into rages; they have been known to beat their children and even attack family members with machetes.
They may become ravenous and scream with pain if water touches their skin. Only in the end, do they lapse into a long coma and die.
The new drug, fexinidazole, cures all stages of the disease within 10 days.
Previously, everyone with the parasites found in a blood test also had to undergo a spinal tap to see if the parasites had reached their brains. If so, patients had to suffer through a complex and sometimes dangerous intravenous regimen requiring hospitalization.
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