A neglected aspect of the epidemiology of sleeping sickness: the propensity of the tsetse fly vector to enter houses

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2013;7(2):e2086. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0002086. Epub 2013 Feb 28.


Background: When taking a bloodmeal from humans, tsetse flies can transmit the trypanosomes responsible for sleeping sickness, or human African trypanosomiasis. While it is commonly assumed that humans must enter the normal woodland habitat of the tsetse in order to have much chance of contacting the flies, recent studies suggested that important contact can occur due to tsetse entering buildings. Hence, we need to know more about tsetse in buildings, and to understand why, when and how they enter such places.

Methodology/principal findings: Buildings studied were single storied and comprised a large house with a thatched roof and smaller houses with roofs of metal or asbestos. Each building was unoccupied except for the few minutes of its inspection every two hours, so focusing on the responses of tsetse to the house itself, rather than to humans inside. The composition, and physiological condition of catches of tsetse flies, Glossina morsitans morsitans and G. pallidipes, in the houses and the diurnal and seasonal pattern of catches, were intermediate between these aspects of the catches from artificial refuges and a host-like trap. Several times more tsetse were caught in the large house, as against the smaller structures. Doors and windows seemed about equally effective as entry points. Many of the tsetse in houses were old enough to be potential vectors of sleeping sickness, and some of the flies alighted on the humans that inspected the houses.

Conclusion/significance: Houses are attractive in themselves. Some of the tsetse attracted seem to be in a host-seeking phase of behavior and others appear to be looking for shelter from high temperatures outside. The risk of contracting sleeping sickness in houses varies according to house design.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Ecosystem*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Tsetse Flies / physiology*

Grant support

This work was supported by UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (Project no. A70598). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.