Gambiense human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, sleeping sickness) is widely assumed to be 100% pathogenic and fatal. However, reports to the contrary exist, and human trypano-tolerance has been postulated. Furthermore, there is uncertainty about the actual duration of both stage 1 and stage 2 infection, particularly with respect to how long a patient remains infectious. Understanding such basic parameters of HAT infection is essential for optimising control strategies based on case detection. We considered the potential existence and relevance of human trypano-tolerance, and explored the duration of infectiousness, through a review of published evidence on the natural progression of gambiense HAT in the absence of treatment, and biological considerations. Published reports indicate that most gambiense HAT cases are fatal if untreated. Self-resolving and asymptomatic chronic infections probably constitute a minority if they do indeed exist. Chronic carriage, however, deserves further study, as it could seed renewed epidemics after control programmes cease.
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (2008) 2 (12): e303. [doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000303]