Acute cases of sleeping sickness in rural Uganda have fallen by 90 per cent after a breakthrough in eliminating the parasite from cattle.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh tested a new approach by targeting 500,000 cows for treatment, in an effort to halt transmission to humans.
By giving the cattle a single injection of a chemical that kills parasites and carrying out regular insecticide spraying to prevent re-infection, the scientists were able to rid the livestock of 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.”
Researchers claim to have already saved thousands of lives and are aiming to extend the project to all districts in the country affected by the condition.
A person contracts sleeping sickness if he or she is bitten by a fly infected with the parasite. A total of 66 million people are at risk from getting the disease.
There are between 30,000 and 50,000 new cases reported annually and around 30,000 die every year from the illness.
Initially, in the first stage of the disease, there are fevers, headaches, itchiness, and joint pains.
The disease progresses to the second stage when the when the parasite invades the central nervous system - causing confusion, poor coordination, numbness and trouble sleeping. If left untreated, the disease is always fatal.
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