A case-control study was carried out in the Congo to define a scoring system based on a number of clinical and epidemiological criteria of African trypanosomiasis due to Trypanosoma brucei gambiense which could be used by peripheral health services to establish a diagnosis. The survey comprised 163 cases and 326 controls. Clinical signs and symptoms were fever, headache, pruritus and skin lesions due to scratching, diarrhoea, oedema, cervical adenopathies, sleep rhythm disturbances, changes in appetite, amenorrhoea or impotence, mental confusion, neurological signs, and other minor clinical disturbances. Other criteria were a history of previous trypanosomiasis and the presence of domestic animals in the home environment. Analysis of the results showed that neither a single criterion nor a group of criteria is pathognomonic for the disease. The selected criteria do not allow discrimination of sleeping sickness patients among suspected individuals who present themselves. A scoring system is therefore of little use at the peripheral level of health services, particularly when considering the additional workload involved. The low diagnostic value of these clinical signs and symptoms and other indicators in African trypanosomiasis stresses the difficulty in developing an early warning tool for an integrated control strategy in primary health care.