Date: Mon 24 Dec 2018
From: Lucille Blumberg <firstname.lastname@example.org> [edited]
East African trypanosomiasis [EAT] has been confirmed in 2 patients admitted to a Johannesburg Hospital over the past week. Both presented with acute febrile illness, and progression of illness to multi-system involvement prompted medical evacuation. Both patients required admission to a critical care unit for supportive care and suramin therapy.
Patient 1 is a 24-year-old working in the Luauno Game Management Area, adjoining the northern boundary of the Lower Zambezi Game Park, Zambia. He self-tested for malaria (negative RDT) after developing a fever, and travelled to Lusaka, the capital, after no response to empiric malaria treatment. He had a typical trypanosomal chancre.
The diagnosis of EAT was promptly confirmed on a peripheral smear; suramin was commenced, and medical evacuation to South Africa was arranged for management of complications of EAT. These included profound thrombocytopaenia but no bleeding, raised transaminases 3 times normal, ARDS requiring nasal oxygen, and some initial confusion. This patient has responded very well to treatment, including diureses, platelet transfusion, and suramin. An examination of the cerebrospinal fluid will be performed to exclude CNS involvement.
Patient 2 is a 24-year-old from the United Kingdom working as a volunteer on an elephant census project in the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, Malawi. He developed an acute febrile illness and was seen at a number of clinics over several days; malaria tests were reported as negative. He was treated with antibiotics but deteriorated and was transferred in a critical condition with liver failure (transaminases 100 times normal value), shock (but no myocarditis), encephalopathy, severe lactic acidosis, lower lobe pneumonia and ARDS, DIC with bleeding, and renal failure. He had a typical trypanosomal chancre. The diagnosis was confirmed on a peripheral blood smear.
The intense parasitaemia initially seen on admission reduced significantly in response to initial suramin therapy. Despite ventilatory and inotropic support, dialysis, platelet and clotting factor replacement, the patient's condition has continued to deteriorate. Liver failure, possibly as a result of a period of severe hypotension prior to admission, would seem to be the major problem.
While malaria is still the most important infection to consider, trypanosomiasis must be considered urgently in the differential diagnosis of persons presenting with progressive, acute febrile illness in persons living, working or travelling to trypanosomiasis-endemic areas.
A history of tsetse bites, the presence of a skin lesion -- the trypanasomal chancre (often misdiagnosed as an eschar of African tick bite fever, a spider bite, or cellulitis) -- and negative malaria RDTs should strongly suggest a diagnosis of EAT.
The diagnosis can be confirmed on a peripheral blood smear, but this may not always be performed in the setting where the patient is 1st seen, and repeat smears may be required. While the disease is uncommon, early consideration for its diagnosis is critical, as rapid progression to complicated disease is typical, and patients require urgent treatment with suramin and supportive care. WHO-supplied stocks of suramin are available in Johannesburg, South Africa; Harare, Zimbabwe; and Lusaka, Zambia.
Lucille Blumberg, John Frean and Evan Shoul
National Institute for Communicable Diseases
Johannesburg, South Africa
[ProMED thanks Dr Lucille Blumberg, John Frean and Evan Shoul for informing us about these cases.
African trypanosomiasis is a zoonotic disease with a reservoir in wild game animals and is a risk throughout game parks in Africa. More information can be found on the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) website on African trypanosomiasis: <http://www.fao.org/paat/en/
The cases presented here show how urgent the development of the clinical disease can be and emphasize that persons with an exposure in a trypanosomiasis-endemic area with a negative malaria test should be considered to have trypanosomiasis. - ProMED Mod.EP]
[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at: