Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Séquençage du génome d’un vampire

NEW HAVEN – La Trypanosomiase humaines africaine (THA) – ou la maladie du sommeil – est depuis longtemps un fléau pour les populations africaines subsahariennes. Cette maladie parasitaire est souvent mortelle lorsqu’elle n’est pas soignée. Son traitement est complexe et nécessite un personnel médical ayant des compétences particulières, un personnel qui fait défaut dans les régions infectées. Le parasite vecteur de l’infection – Trypanosoma brucei gambiense en Afrique centrale et de l’Ouest et T. b. rhodiense en Afrique de l’Est – est transmis par la piqûre de la mouche tsé-tsé (Glossina morsitans morsitans).

Au début du XXe siècle, des épidémies de THA ont décimé les populations de plusieurs régions d’Afrique. Le dépistage et le traitement systématiques de millions de personnes ont réduit l’incidence de la transmission dans les années 1930, mais le relâchement de la surveillance a permis la résurgence de la THA dans les années 1950 et 1960, pour atteindre des niveaux épidémiques dans les années 1990. Une campagne de l’Organisation mondiale de la santé est parvenue à endiguer la maladie en 2008, avec environ 10.000 nouveaux cas chaque année. Mais des millions de personnes sont susceptibles d’être contaminées.

Il est clair que la mouche tsé-tsé, ou glossine, constitue un grave danger dans des régions où les populations peuvent le moins se permettre ou accéder à un traitement. La trypanosomiase africaine animale, ou nagana, est causée par les parasites Trypanosoma congolense, T. vivax et T. brucei – tous transmis par la mouche tsé-tsé.

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