Sleeping Sickness Watch Out

Scientists anticipate the tsetse fly projecting sleep sickness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The tsetse fly, a nasty little critter, is a taxi cab service for parasites causing sleeping sickness. Researchers hope to wipe out sleeping sickness by targeting the tsetse fly.

Scientists from Michigan State University are now able to accurately predict sleeping sickness outbreaks. An exciting use of NASA equipment and the data it gathers can help predict where the next outbreak of sleeping sickness will occur.

"NASA technology helps pinpoint future sleeping sickness outbreaks."

Joseph Messina, a geographer at Michigan State University observes that  the disease is popping up where it shouldn't be, and has become curiously absent in places where it usually thrived. 

Messina and his colleagues developed a plan to use climate and land cover data from NASA's free resource of worldwide vegetation, temperature and land cover data, to model tsetse fly distribution in Kenya, where the tsetse fly has started to move into more areas. 

Messina's goal was to predict future hotspots of sleeping sickness. This would aid plans to strategically trap and spray tsetse fly populations and prevent an epidemic.

Messina reports the model has been doing its job of locating the fly. Tsetse flies are also quite dependent on environmental conditions. Too hot, they die. Too cold, they die. Too dry, they die. 

The tsetse is a transport vehicle for trypanosomes, which is the parasite that causes sleeping sickness. When the tsetse fly bites the host, it inadvertently injects the parasite. This parasite eventually gets into the bloodstream, where it travels to other sites in the body. 

Left untreated, the host may experience a myriad of neurological problems, including odd interruption in sleeping patterns. Coma and death can follow. Sleeping sickness' annual lives lost is about 50,000 human lives and $4.5 billion in cattle losses. Sleeping sickness symptoms include dizziness, confusion and interrupted sleep patterns which may lead to coma and death.

The Study

  • The model shows that the amount of land the fly occupies from month to month and year to year really varies 
  • The model pointed out tsetse "reservoirs" and "refugia" where the flies always can be found
  • The model will next  incorporate weather prediction data to enable real-time estimates of fly distribution
  • Given Kenya's climate, large parts of Kenya, including the agricultural areas, will become suitable habitat for tsetse
  • Tstetse fly prediction will allow scientists to advise Kenyans when to set up your traps
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 27, 2011
Last Updated:
May 6, 2011