Myths and truths about the tsetse fly and sleeping sickness

The tsetse fly, despite being known as the “sleep fly,” does not promote restful sleep (unless you consider death to be the Eternal Sleep).

Their bite transmits a deadly parasite, the trypanosome, which attacks the nervous system of its victims. The disease it transmits is known as “sleeping sickness”, but in reality trypanosomiasis (as it is really called) not only disturbs sleep cycles, but also causes sensory, motor, psychic and finally neurological disorders that lead to death.

Human African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, is a vector-dependent parasitic disease for transmission. The parasites involved are protozoa belonging to the genus Trypanosoma, transmitted to humans by bites of the tsetse fly (genus Glossina) infected by feeding on humans or animals that harbored the parasite.

This fly dedicates no less than 250 genes to ensure that its saliva facilitates the ingestion of human blood without hindrance; but the trypanosome inside has evolved to reduce the sucking efficiency of that saliva.

It is the parasite’s Machiavellian strategy to force its host fly to bite more and more people to obtain its food, and guarantee itself a more efficient propagation.

Trypanosome is also one of the most devastating diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, with 80% dying of infected victims. It harms a total of half a million people, kills three million head of cattle annually and reduces the productivity of sick animals. And there is no chance in the medium term that a vaccine will be obtained and the few treatments available to date are highly toxic.

The dream fly is so important for Africa that there are even theories that hold it responsible for the fact that the entire continent has always been structurally poor.

The explanation for this theory lies in the fact that peoples need pack animals to obtain surplus production and, by extension, free time, which facilitates progress in other areas, such as culture or innovation. In Africa, however, there have been no pack animals because they died from the bite of the sleeping fly. In the rest of the world, however, horses and donkeys were domesticated, which allowed the production capacity to be multiplied.

The equivalent of a horse or donkey in Africa is a zebra, but while the zebra does survive trypanosomiasis because its striped pattern on its body confuses the tsetse fly, the zebra is not domesticable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *