Poorly planned cattle restocking programmes could lead to the spread of sleeping sickness across Uganda, scientists from the University of Edinburgh, UK, warned on 24 August. In a report on an outbreak of sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) in Soroti District, eastern Uganda, in 1998, the scientists said the high incidence of the disease could have been linked to large-scale cattle restocking efforts in the area, Reuters news agency reported. According to the Edinburgh team, over half the cattle traded at the Soroti market originated from areas with endemic sleeping sickness, and proximity to the market was a “highly significant risk factor” for the disease. Prior to the restocking programme, only one case had ever been reported in Soroti, the researchers said.
The potentially fatal disease, caused by a parasite that infects humans from the bite of the tsetse fly, leads to “flu-like symptoms, inflammation of the brain, behavioural changes and, potentially, coma and death”, Reuters reported. Domestic livestock were “important reservoirs” for one of the two parasites that cause the disease, it quoted the researchers as saying. They said that Uganda, which was undertaking a national restocking programme as part of poverty reduction efforts, should ensure that cattle were treated before being transported. However, it quoted Michael Barrett, an infection and immunity expert at the University of Glasgow, as saying that treatment to stop cattle getting the non-human form of the disease could reduce the effectiveness of drugs currently used to tackle sleeping sickness in people.
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