Wally Gobetz/Flickr

La secuenciación de un vampiro

NEW HAVEN – La Tripanosomiasis Humana Africana (THA) – también conocida como enfermedad del sueño – ha azotado desde hace ya mucho tiempo atrás a las poblaciones del África subsahariana rural. La THA es una infección parasitaria que a menudo es fatal, si no se trata. Y el tratamiento es complejo, ya que requiere del tipo de personal médico altamente calificado que es difícil de encontrar en las zonas afectadas. Los parásitos que transmiten la infección – los Trypanosoma brucei gambiense en África central y occidental y los T. b. rhodesiense en África oriental – se transmiten a través de una picadura de una mosca tse-tsé infectada (Glossina morsitans morsitan).

A principios del siglo XX, las epidemias de THA diezmaron poblaciones en muchas partes de África. Aunque la detección sistemática y el tratamiento de millones de personas redujeron drásticamente la transmisión de la enfermedad en la década de 1930, la relajación de estos esfuerzos permitió que la THA resurgiera en los años 1950 y 1960, alcanzando niveles de epidemia a principios de la década de 1990. Una campaña de Organización Mundial de la Salud  fue la que finalmente consiguió poner la enfermedad bajo control en el 2008, con lo que en la actualidad apenas 10.000 personas llegan a contraer la enfermedad cada año. Sin embargo, millones de personas permanecen en situación de riesgo.

Claramente, las moscas tse-tsé representan un grave peligro en las zonas donde las personas tienen las menores posibilidades de pagar o acceder al tratamiento. Y la amenaza no se limita a los seres humanos. La tripanosomiasis africana de los animales, o nagana, es causada por los parásitos Trypanosoma congolense, T. vivax, y T. brucei –todos de los cuales son transmitidos por la mosca tsé-tsé.

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