Purpose of review: Sleeping sickness has re-emerged as a serious problem in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 100 000 deaths each year. South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola have experienced serious epidemics of the Gambian form of the disease. The control of Gambian sleeping sickness, which relies primarily on active case finding followed by chemotherapy, is being threatened by problems of drug resistance. Recently, Rhodesian sleeping sickness has also posed a health risk to travellers visiting game parks in East Africa.
Recent findings: Because of war-related constraints, which have prevented case detection, the prevalence of Gambian sleeping sickness commonly exceeds 5% and reached 29% in one focus in south Sudan. The incidence of Gambian infections refractory to melarsoprol treatment has also risen sharply in northern Uganda, northern Angola and southern Sudan, with failure rates as high as 26.9%. Molecular techniques based on the gene for human serum resistance (SRA) have enabled the identification of human infective parasites in the domestic animal reservoir. This molecular tool has shown that the Rhodesian form of the disease is being carried in cattle northwards in Uganda towards areas endemic for the Gambian form. The coalescence of distributions of the chronic and acute forms of the disease will present problems for both control and treatment.
Summary: This review surveys the molecular tools that are improving our understanding of the epidemiology of sleeping sickness, and highlights the search for new diagnostics and drugs to deal with the disease.
Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases (2002) 15 (5) 477-484