Nearly 3 Billion Were at Risk for Malaria in 2009

610132_mosquitoAn estimated 2.85 billion people worldwide were at risk of contracting malaria in 2009, according to a new report published Tuesday in the journal PLos Neglected Tropical Diseases. Reuters reports that researchers mapped out the prevalence of the common malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax and found that it was more widespread than another parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, although P. falciparum is associated with greater mortality and morbidity. Approximately 91 percent of the worldwide population at risk of P. vivax lives in central and southeast Asia.

The study was conducted as part of the Malaria Atlas Project, a multinational research collaboration. According to one of the authors of the atlas, knowing where P. vivax thrives is critical to controlling it. Although the United Nations reports that malaria cases and/or deaths have dropped by half in 25 countries in the past decade, approximately 247 million people were infected with malaria, and nearly one million (many of them children) died from the disease in 2008.

The heat of summer has brought mosquito season in the Northern hemisphere, as well as a number of news stories about malaria: Mumbai, India, is facing a malaria scare that killed 26 in July; European researchers have discovered that antibiotics could help fight malaria; scientists in Mali plan to breed genetically modified mosquitoes that are resistant to malaria, which researchers hope will take over the wild mosquito population and help eradicate malaria; and researchers in the U.S. engineered a “malaria-proof” mosquito that could not be infected by a malaria-causing parasite.

A 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that the leading malaria drug, artemisinin, was becoming less effective against the disease. If this is the case, the already-urgent need for an effective malaria treatment and/or vaccine could increase even further. Scientists at Medicines for Malaria Venture, Bioject Medical TechnologiesMymetics Corporation, Institut Pasteur, LICA Pharmaceuticals, and GenVec are currently working to fight this worldwide disease.

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