Vets on alert over sleeping sickness parasite
Professor Ashoka Dangolla of the University of Peradeniya has put all veterinarians on the alert following discovery of an often-fatal African disease found in two local dogs that can be transmitted to humans.
Professor Dangolla said he detected trypanosoma in two purebred German shepherd (Alsation) dogs brought to the Veterinary Hospital at Peradeniya from Balangoda and Mullaitivu.
The rapidly-transmitted disease is caused by the tsetse fly and passes, like malaria, through blood. It originates from African countries and Dr. Dangolla is mystified as to how it was transmitted to Sri Lankan dogs. The dog from Balangoda dog has died while the pet from Mullaitivu has been cured. Professor Dangolla said he had asked all veterinarians to be vigilant as the disease can be passed between animals and humans.
He said tests are being carried out on blood samples at the Teaching Hospital in Peradeniya by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the Science and Allied Science faculties to determine which species of tryphanosoma caused the dogs’ illness. A researcher working on a malaria project has also been called in.
Professor Dangolla said trypanosoma was detected when examining an infection in the dog from Balangoda, the first dog found to have the disease.
“In cases of eye infections, it is normal to run a test to eliminate trypanosoma. But this species of trypanosoma has never been detected in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Human African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, is transmitted to humans through bites by the tsetse fly (Glossina genus) which have acquired their infection from humans or from animals harbouring human disease-carrying parasites, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.
“Tsetse flies are found just in sub-Saharan Africa though only certain species transmit the disease. For reasons that are so far unexplained, in many regions where tsetse flies are found, sleeping sickness is not,” the WHO states.
The disease occurs most in rural populations and its intensity and prevalence varies.
“A person can be infected for months or even years without major signs or symptoms of the disease. When more evident symptoms emerge the patient is already in an advanced disease stage where the central nervous system is affected,” the WHO says.