BACKGROUND: African trypanosomiasis is a parasitic infection sporadically imported to Europe by tourists or immigrants returning from endemic areas. We present the first and an unusual case of East African trypanosomiasis imported to Poland by a patient returning from a tourist trip to Uganda and Rwanda, which was successfully treated with pentamidine.
CASE PRESENTATION: A 61-year-old Polish man was admitted to the Department because of high-grade fever and multi-organ dysfunction after a tourist trip to East Africa. He experienced a single tsetse fly bite during a safari trip to the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. On admission, his clinical status was severe, with high fever of 41ºC, preceded by chills, bleeding from the gums and oral mucosa, haemorrhages at the sites of venipuncture, numerous ecchymoses, fine-spotted skin rash, tachycardia, hepatosplenomegaly, dehydration, jaundice, dyspnoea, hypoxaemia, generalised oedema and oliguria. There was a typical non-painful trypanosomal chancre with central necrosis and peripheral erythema on his left arm. Laboratory investigations showed leucopenia, thrombocytopenia, haemolytic anaemia, hyperbilirubinaemia, hypoglycaemia, elevated creatinine and urea, high activity of aminotransferases, elevated levels of inflammatory markers, hypoproteinaemia, proteinuria, abnormal clotting and bleeding times, low fibrinogen level, metabolic acidosis, and electrolyte disturbances. A peripheral blood smear showed numerous Trypanosoma brucei trypomastigotes with a massive parasitaemia of 100,000/μl. T. brucei rhodesiense subspecies was finally identified on the basis of the characteristic serum resistance-associated gene using a polymerase chain reaction, and a seroconversion of specific immunoglobulin M and G antibodies in the peripheral blood by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Serological tests for T. brucei gambiense subspecies were negative. A severe clinical course of acute rhodesiense trypanosomiasis with renal failure, respiratory distress, disseminated intravascular coagulation syndrome, haemolysis, liver insufficiency and myocarditis was confirmed. Intensive anti-parasitic and symptomatic treatment was immediately instituted, including intravenous pentamidine, plasmaphereses, oxygen therapy, blood transfusion, catecholamine administration, and fluid infusions, as well as haemostatic, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and diuretic drugs. The final outcome was a full recovery with no late sequelae.
CONCLUSION: Sleeping sickness should always be considered in the differential diagnosis of fever in people returning from safari trips to the national parks or nature reserves of sub-Saharan Africa.