Background Sleeping sickness, caused by two trypanosome subspecies, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, is a parasitic disease transmitted by the tsetse fly in sub-Saharan Africa. We report on a recent outbreak of T b rhodesiense sleeping sickness outside the established south-east Ugandan focus, in Soroti District where the disease had previously been absent. Soroti District has been the subject of large-scale livestock restocking activities and, because domestic cattle are important reservoirs of T b rhodesiense, we investigated the role of cattle in the origins of the outbreak.
Methods We identified the origins of cattle entering the outbreak area in the 4 years preceding the outbreak. A matched case-control study was conducted to assess whether the distance of villages from the main market involved with restocking was a risk factor for sleeping sickness. We investigated the spatial clustering of sleeping sickness cases at the start of the outbreak.
Findings Over 50% (1510 of 2796) of cattle traded at the market were reported to have originated from endemic sleeping sickness areas. The case-control study revealed that distance to the cattle market was a highly significant risk factor for sleeping sickness (p<0??001) and that there was a significant clustering of cases (27 of 28) close to the market at the start of the outbreak (p<0??001). As the outbreak progressed, the average distance of cases moved away from the cattle market (0??014 km per day, 95% CI 0??008???0??020 km per day, p<0??001).
Interpretation The results are consistent with the disease being introduced by cattle infected with T b rhodesiense imported to the market from the endemic sleeping sickness focus. The subsequent spread of the disease away from the market suggests that sleeping sickness is becoming established in this new focus. Public health measures directed at controlling the infection in the animal reservoir should be considered to prevent the spread of sleeping sickness.