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African Illness: A Case of Parasites?


Kevin M. Bonney
Liberal Studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
New York University


This case is based on a British patient presenting to a hospital with an array of symptoms after returning from an African safari. Students learn about potential causes of the symptoms based on the patient's potential exposure to parasites endemic to Africa, specifically those that cause African trypanosomiasis (also known as "African sleeping sickness") and malaria. Students research the various aspects of parasite biology, synthesize a diagnostic plan for the patient, and develop a public health campaign aimed at eradicating the parasite from humans and livestock in an African community. The case is appropriate for courses in introductory biology, immunology, microbiology, parasitology, public health, tropical diseases, and African studies.


  • Acquire knowledge of the following terms: Adaptive immunity, African trypanomiasis, antibodies/immunoglobulins, diagnosis, parasite, parasitemia, protozoan, Plasmodium falciparum, malaise, myalgia, Nagana, suramin, Trypanosoma brucei, and Trypanosoma cruzi.
  • Evaluate the presentation of disease symptoms for clues to potential causes.
  • Conduct research using external scientific and medical resources and apply this knowledge to make a diagnosis.
  • Analyze the relationship between known symptoms and potential disease causes in order to synthesize a diagnosis.
  • Apply knowledge of diagnostic tests for various diseases to create a plan to confirm a hypothesized diagnosis.
  • Understand the difference between various human pathogens.
  • Evaluate the diagnostic procedure for T. brucei infection to explain the difficulties of that process.
  • Analyze the relationship of VSG switching to the host immune response and apply knowledge of the immune system to explain what would happen in the absence of VSG switching.
  • Apply knowledge of the etiology and epidemiology of T. brucei in the synthesis and evaluation of potential public health initiatives to combat the disease.
  • Utilize critical thinking and collaboration through group discussion to create multifaceted solutions to the complex problem of eradicating the public health burden of African trypanosomiasis.


African sleeping sickness; African trypanosomiasis; adaptive immunity; antibodies; antigenic variation; immunoglobulins; Nagana; parasites; parasitemia; protozoan; Trypanosoma brucei; variant surface glycoprotein; VSG; Nagana; Africa

Topical Areas


Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Continuing education



Type / Methods

Discussion, Interrupted, Student Presentations



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Cell Biology  |   Epidemiology  |   Molecular Biology  |   Biochemistry  |   Medicine (General)  |   Microbiology  |   Public Health  |  

Date Posted


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