A tsetse fly is a bloodsucking fly which is exclusively found in the African continent, south of the Sahara desert. Tsetse fly species are classified under the genus Glossina, and are slightly bigger than the common houseflies. However, they have two distinct characteristics that that usually distinguish them from houseflies. One of these characteristics is that a tsetse fly usually folds its wings completely, so that one of its wings rests directly over the other on its abdomen. It also has a long proboscis extending directly forward, which is attached to a distinct bulb at the bottom of its head.
Tsetse flies live on the blood of human beings, domestic and wild animals, and have made many areas in sub-Saharan Africa uninhabitable. It is almost unbelievable that a mere fly can wreak such havoc, but then again, a tsetse fly is no ordinary fly. It is the primary vector of trypanosomes, parasites which usually cause sleeping sickness in human beings and nagana in animals. Tsetse flies transmit these deadly parasites through biting people and animals. These diseases cause the deaths of many people and animals yearly, negatively affecting the development of the affected areas. As indicated earlier, their presence in a particular area inhibits human settlement and agricultural activity, until they have been effectively controlled.
The negative health implications resulting from tsetse fly infestation have long been a matter of concern to the World Health Organization. Tsetse flies spread diseases very fast owing to their vast numbers, and can easily wipe out herds of both domestic and wild animals in a short time. Fortunately, it can be diagnosed and treated in domestic animals such as cattle. Although the number of humans affected is lower than that of animals, the effect is equally fatal. It may come as a surprise to many people that sleeping sickness eventually leads to death of humans, since most people think that it only entails sleeping. This however is not usually the case. Initially, patients suffering from sleeping sickness contend with symptoms such as high fever and headaches, which are then followed by cardiovascular disorders. If untreated, the parasite affects a patient’s central nervous system, and may cause seizures and maniacal behavior, accompanied by excessive sleepiness. Eventually, a patient falls into a coma and dies.
Diagnosis and treatment of sleeping sickness is usually complex, requiring specialized staff. The success of treatment usually depends on the stage of the sickness; the earlier it is treated, the better. During later stages, the disease becomes difficult to treat mainly because the drugs used also have severe side effects. In view of this, people who are not diagnosed in time have few chances of survival. Worse still, there is no vaccine either for sleeping sickness or nagana.
Currently, the World Health Organization in conjunction with the affected African governments has initiated programs to reduce the proliferation of tsetse flies. It is believed that if the tsetse fly presence in Africa can be effectively reduced, its negative effects can be controlled. There are also plans underway by scientists to find ways of rendering the tsetse fly harmless, which may just end the tsetse fly menace once and for all.