African Trypanosomiasis, Zombie Disease, Steals Sleep From Victims

African trypanosomiasis- better known as the African "sleeping sickness"- is a disease that neurologically turns healthy men and women into zombie-like, confused people, and can kill if left untreated.

African trypanosomiasis is not well known in the United States, but in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 10,000 new cases are reported a year, according to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention. The myriad symptoms fall into two categories: West African trypanosomiasis and East African trypanosomiasis.

While those who contract the disease eventually end up as zombies, the first stages of the infection are much more subtle. First, the tsetse fly must bite the victim- they could otherwise contract the disease through a bad blood transfusion or sexual contact- then headaches, joint pains, itching, and fever set in.

If the disease is left untreated, an infected person's lymph nodes will swell to large sizes, and then neurological symptoms begin to appear, resulting in zombiefication. After anemia, fatigue, heart and kidney problems begin to develop, the patient's sleep cycle will become affected as well. The "sleeping sickness" causes confusion, drowsiness, and irritability, causing some to mistake them for zombies.

The disease is caused by a protozoa called Trypanosoma brucei, which is transferred by the large brown biting Tsetse fly. While the West African version of the infection takes place over years, the East African disease can kill in months if left untreated.

Treatment for the infection requires different medicines, but prevention of the disease can be just as effective.

"Prevention of African trypanosomiasis involves avoiding the tsetse fly. Sleeping under fly nets is advised, as is using bug repellent sprays which will reduce contact with flies," wrote WiseGeek.com. For much of Africa, this is a necessity, as the Tsetse fly covers a large part of the rural continent. Travelers should also forego dark colors and roll up windows while traveling, as the biting fly is attracted to movement.