Malaria could be killing about twice as many people as experts have believed, a new study suggests. It estimates that 1.2 million people died of the disease in 2010, nearly twice as many as estimated by the World Health Organization, which is skeptical of the new research, the Associated Press reports.
If the numbers are real, they represent a sobering note in the fight against malaria, an incurable blood disease spread by mosquitoes that causes headaches, fevers, chills, vomiting and sometimes death.
That battle has looked hopeful in the last few years: Death rates from malaria fell by more than 25% from 2000 to 2011, according to a recently released report from the World Health Organization. The organization has said malaria could be stamped out as soon as 2015.
A long-hoped-for malaria vaccine is in the works; tests last year showed that it could protect at least half of all children from the disease. Researchers are even finding ways to kill off mosquitoes with toxic traps that use the smell of dirty socks. Meanwhile, the campaign to end malaria has centered on indoor spraying and insecticidal nets, as well as equipping clinics to diagnose and treat the disease.
The study, paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also challenges the idea that older children and adults are not susceptible to the disease, the Associated Press reports. That could change assumptions about who needs to be targeted to stop the deadly disease.
No matter how you count, the vast majority of malaria deaths are in Africa. This map from the Kaiser Family Foundation, based on WHO data, shows the stark and unmistakable pattern:
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A Sudanese boy with a high fever, most likely a symptom of malaria, rests as he waits to see a doctor in Camp Serif al Jir. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times