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Sleeping sickness breakthrough

Thousands of lives already saved by treating infected cattle

Mark Gould

Monday, 09 November 2015

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have pioneered revolutionary new procedures which it is hoped will eradicate sleeping sickness, a disease which kills thousands of people across the world every year.

The disease, which is a parasitic infection affecting the nervous system, is always fatal if not treated and is usually transmitted by the bite of an infected tsetse fly.

Yet, as a result of the introduction of a new targeted treatment regime aimed at infected cattle, cases of the disease among people in rural Uganda fell by 90 per cent saving many thousands of lives.

Many sufferers are in the poorest rural areas with no access to treatment and are unaware of the risk to their health posed by infected livestock.

Researchers targeted 500,000 cows for treatment. They eliminated the trypanosome parasite that carries the disease by giving livestock a single injection of a cheap easily available drug, trypanocide and by carrying out regular insecticide spraying to prevent re-infection.

The university now plans to treat around 2.7 million more cattle in the central African country, targeting the districts most badly affected by the disease. Professor Sue Welburn, the university's vice-principal global access, led the research.

She said: "For this neglected disease, treating the infection in cattle, the source of infection to humans offers us a double whammy, healthier people and healthier animals.

"By turning cows into deadly targets for tsetse flies, sleeping sickness is gradually being pushed out of communities."

The results were achieved as part of the Stamp Out Sleeping Sickness (SoS) campaign, created in 2006 by the university with the University of Makerere, charity IKARE, Ceva Sante Animale and the government of Uganda.

The study was named in the top 20 examples of UK further education institutions benefiting global development.

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