Health

A new easy treatment for a diseasethat causes 'paranoia, fury, and death'

"Sleeping sickness" is transmitted by tsetse flies infected with parasites that dig into the brain.

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A new oral treatment was approved Friday for human African trypanosomiasis — a terrifying disease that causes those it infects to experience hallucinations and even personality changes, the New York Times reported.

Commonly called sleeping sickness, the disease is spread by tsetse flies infected with protozoan parasites that tunnel into the brain once they are transmitted to humans, causing “paranoia” and “fury,” according to the New York Times.

Symptoms of sleeping sickness include severe headaches, irritability, extreme fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and aching muscles and joints, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But more than that, this disease causes confusion, personality changes, and neurological problems. The New York Times reported that people infected with sleeping sickness have beaten their children or attacked family members with machetes.

Without medical treatment, someone infected with African trypanosomiasis will die.

But the new medication, a pill called fexinidazole, treats all phases of the disease in 10 days, according to the New York Times.

Prior to this, treatment for sleeping sickness included a blood test and spinal tap to confirm the parasites had made their way to the brain, and was followed by hospitalization and intravenous treatment that could be dangerous.

“[This] is a completely new paradigm — it could let us bring treatment down to the village level,” Dr. Bernard Pecoul, founder and executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, told the New York Times.

All in all, the testing and approval process for fexinidazole involved screening 2 million villagers and included clinical trials with 750 patients in Congo and the Central African Republic.

The costs, which totalled $63 million, were covered by seven European countries, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, and others.

“An all-oral treatment has been a dream of mine for decades,” Dr. Victor Kande, a health ministry adviser of the Democratic Republic of Congo who supervised the clinical drug trials, told the New York Times. “This is a huge leap in how we can tackle this disease.”

Sleeping sickness cases still surface in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and people in rural areas are most at risk, as they are often most exposed to tsetse flies, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are two variations of the disease, but 98% of reported cases involve the parasite Trypanosoma brucei gambiense.

Global health efforts have been made to eliminate this sickness, but a simple treatment like a pill could yield amazing results.

In 2009, there were less than 10,000 cases for the first time in 50 years, WHO reported. By 2015, that number had dropped to 2,804.

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